“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
It’s 3am. Cannot sleep. Restless. Slide to unlock. Open the New York Times App. Look for the latest incident. He did it again. He lashed out. Fear. Anger. Outrage. I needed to see this. I needed to check that the madness was still there. Perhaps I need the insanity. It confirms my fears are real. It confirms I am safely on the right side, and that the world needs saving.
Bastille Day. A lost soul drives a truck on Promenades des Anglais in Nice. Thousands of people in sight. Kids watching fireworks. 80 people killed. Horror. Pain. Grief. President extends state of emergency. I had lunch on that same street a month ago. I am now safely back home, in this island of peace and prosperity that is Switzerland. Yet inside I live in my own state of emergency.
It has been close to a month now and I am still compulsively checking the pulse of the planet with my fingertip. Why? It is not really about being a better-informed citizen; it is my fascination with chaos, with destruction. Or perhaps my need for order, for being right, for judging others. I alone can fix it. Chaos and order. Those universal forces raging within me. Immersed in fear, they lead to the same dire place, they create intolerance and separation.
But is it the whole story? Underneath this struggle lies a much deeper desire: a chained love. “If I could be who you wanted… all the time” said the anthem song of my adolescent years. The impossibility of securing the ever-fragile bond of love is what fuels in me those extreme swings between chaos and order. A fear that is never felt more strongly than during times of great uncertainties like these. This part of me paradoxically sees the twin faces of destruction and control, chaos and order, as the only redemptive path to love.
Trump embodies that. He makes it visible for us. The fearful, tyrannical part of ourselves, demanding attention, destroying in his path what he ultimately seeks: Love. It is a trap. The most dangerous of all. The ancient apocalyptic fervour… From which the kingdom of heaven shall rise.
I decide to watch one of his speeches. We only get blips of him in the media. I want to immerse myself fully in the Trump experience. After a few minutes I am troubled. He is a man deeply in sync with the rhythm and dark emotions of his time. He speaks like a Twitter stream. Jumping from one tagline to another, every few seconds, he is pressing the fear and anger buttons. A steady inoculation. It’s powerful madness.
He speaks of the Dragon outside and inside the gate. The migrants, the terrorists, the forces of destruction. Only he can stop them. Only he can bring back law and order, prestige and power to the “free world”. Yet he is the apocalyptic Dragon, spiting fire, fuelling fear, creating chaos. Underneath this very thin sheet of gold lives a fearful, ego-driven, tyrannical Dragon craving love and attention. Our Dragon.
The Democrats follow with their own convention and an inspiring appeal to the values of democracy and freedom, a call for reason and unity. We will improve the system, we will enforce better policies. The US is still the greatest country on earth, the future is bright. Yes we still can. Don’t be seduced by the doomsday buffoon.
Yet something rings hollow in all this. It sounds too pure, too detached. Millions of people are ready to support the buffoon. American friends and colleagues tell me people close to them, many they love and respect, are ready to vote for him. That is because he is no buffoon, he is our Dragon. A Dragon riding our very real fears in times of rapid unravelling in culture and nature. The fear of the unknown, the fear of loss. We mock or ignore our Dragon at our peril.
Our leaders are perhaps most exposed to the gathering fury. Few would acknowledge this but most are overwhelmed by the speed and complexity of the changes at hand. Yet they pretend. They are in control. Posturing, yet scared within, we see through their lack of integrity. People, relationships feel increasingly hollow. We grow divided and ineffective. Trust fades away, isolation and fear grows. The Dragon is angry and demands love and attention. We vote for Trump.
Can they, can we, can I safely distance myself from Trump? To some extent the same raw fear and anger he projects lives in me. The same desperate need to be loved. Refusing to acknowledge those emotions in me feeds the Dragon. I will be prone to my own form of intolerance, especially when facing someone like him or someone who supports his ideas. Or worse I will run away and retreat back into my shell. Fight or flight. We cannot defeat the Dragon with more violence, neither can we look away.
How do we respond? In the story of the apocalypse, the answer is the lamb. A lamb slain yet standing. The lamb symbolises the power of humble love and compassion; of courage in the presence of suffering and fear; of strength born out of fragility and woundedness. The only answer to tyranny is to take in the fear and pain we see in others and in ourselves, and transform it within us through compassion.
The lamb is slain. To free ourselves and transcend our fears, we must bring them into the light, be present to them, feel them, love them. If we can acknowledge and lift up our wounds, they can turn into courage. This is why the lamb is still standing. He is not a submissive force. He is facing the Dragon. This is a love that is bold and engaged with the darkness in us and in others. The word courage itself comes from the Latin word “cor”, which means heart. It is acting bravely from and out of love.
So Trump is right. We do need boldness; we do need to challenge the norms and systems that no longer serve us. We live in a time when true human connections have disappeared in many of our communities and organisations; mass migration and suffering spreads from the chaos of the Middle East; the very fabric of life is threatened by climate change and widespread ecosystem collapse. It is not a time to be reasonable.
Yet we must not act recklessly out of fear but courageously out of love: humble yet defiant love. We need to show the kind of leadership that Pope Francis is practicing. In a crumbling institution, he blows life again by following his convictions, faithful to his deeper values, not to church norms and protocols. This is what is required of our leaders today.
Yet these are also times when leaders alone do not hold the answer. The problems we are facing are too broad, too complex; their origin and potential solutions live in all of us. Even if reason prevails and Trump is not elected, the Dragon he is riding will still rage inside ourselves. We are all asked to be bold and to face it.
The word “hell” in French is “enfer”. It shares the same roots as the word “enfermer” which means closing oneself. Hell is when we hang on to fixed ideas and beliefs, fixed visions of ourselves, of others and the world. We close ourselves to the possibilities of life and our wounds fester. Safely from the distance, behind our walls, behind our screens, we are tyrants. When we refuse to courageously meet each other and acknowledge our own state of emergency, we let the forces of chaos and order control our lives and we grow apart.
The apocalypse is a moment of great fear and suffering. It is also a moment of great possibilities. The lamb does prevail in the end. The word apocalypse itself means “lifting the veil”, not the end of the world. If we can courageously, lovingly face our darkness, the illusion of our separation lifts up. It will take time to overcome the barriers we have created for ourselves; to simply say that we are lost and we don’t know, that we need each other. Yet, if we persist we will eventually find ourselves in our common brokenness, in our shared destiny with other people and nature. We can see each other anew.
We can see Trump differently. We can see the scared, love-seeking adolescent in him. We can feel the anger and judgement raging in us as he speaks. We can be grateful to him for making our own Dragon so visible. And then decide. Decide to respond defiantly with love; to ask genuinely what scares us; to let go of our desire to be right and humbly listen to what lives underneath the noise: the murmurs of our yearning to be loved and seen by one another. We can decide to see this fragile beauty. In those places we can eventually find each other again and start creating something new. Something way beyond the politics of the day. In those places we can love the Trump inside ourselves and transcend him.
Love. Humility. Beauty. Today while more chaos unfolds on my screen, I lift my head up, I see kindness in the tired faces around me, I see beauty and possibilities, despite everything. And I hear words from the band of my youth once again: “Immerse your soul in love”.
 Radiohead « Fake Plastic Tree », from the album « The Bends », 1995
 Radiohead « Street Spirit», from the album « The Bends » , 1995