I rarely write about political matters for a number of reasons. Opinions are usually just opinions after all. Over the years, I’ve discovered that when I let things play out, I’m probably at least as often proven wrong as I am right in my assumptions. Even more often, it remains unclear. So, nowadays I prefer to observe, gather data, and see how things unfold. I have been quietly gathering data on the current political situation and I feel compelled to voice my deep concerns. The trajectory appears clear and the increase in human suffering is alarming. My sincere hope is that this post might be useful in generating some thoughtful conversation.
What do political matters have to do with mindfulness you may wonder. To be mindful is to be awake. Mindfulness is the essential first step in becoming a good steward of our communities and our environment. We have to become aware of how we are showing up in the world in order to see if we are truly living in alignment with our highest values.
There has been a lot of talk lately about “standing up for” what we believe in. This turn of phrase means acting in support of. For a moment, I invite you to engage in a little thought exercise with me. What are your values? What matters most in your life? Consider writing down your top ten so you can really look at them, right there in front of you. A values card sort might be helpful in this process.
What do you see in this list? How do these values play out in your life? More often than not, do your words and actions reflect your values? Where did you place the well-being of other people and the planet you live on in your list of values? What do you stand in support of? Knowing that none of us are perfect, do you also expect that others’ words and actions will generally reflect their values? How about the people who represent and lead your country?
Because of my profession, I listen to many different points of view. I also have family members with a wide range of beliefs. I know firsthand that listening is very important if we wish to understand. Some people have expressed the belief that the words and actions of this administration don’t really matter. They may disapprove, but as long as there is the promise that whatever policy they hold most dear will be supported, anything that is said or done is excusable. This sounds very much like selling one’s soul to me, because as Gandhi famously said, “As the means, so the end”. There are many wisdom tales about the consequences of allowing our narrow desires to rule us, blinding us to what is right in front of us, compromising who we are for what we want. What seems on the surface to be a great deal ends up being our undoing.
A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart. ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust
Much of our divide has to do with our primal emotions. Reason can’t compete with fear, pride, aversion and attachment. When we are ensnared by these emotions and feeling states, we are less able to listen or feel curious. We tend to hang on even more tightly to what we think we know from our memories and conditioning rather than what is actually occurring in the moment. Most of us do not have the energy or time to do the research to back up our ideas and beliefs with real, current, and broad-based data. We are most likely to believe something if it is associated with other beliefs or preferences we already hold or if it comes from a source we trust and like. This means that persuading with facts, data and research usually just widens the chasm. I really like data and facts, so I rarely win arguments – any more, I rarely argue.
The May 2018 UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his mission to the United States of America stated that “…policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship.” Much of the world lives in relative poverty (43.1 million Americans in 2016 according to the Census Bureau). Ignoring this fact is a grave mistake, because none of us are untouched by others’ misery. We are all interconnected.
It’s also easy to get caught up in the yearnings and desires of our small selves – our ideas of “I, me and mine” and the predictions and judgments we make based on our memories. We call it the small self because its limited by our past experiences, our conditioning, and not fully present to the moment. It fails to see the complexity of experience preferring to pretend things are black and white. The small self doesn’t realize that things are complex, everything is interconnected, and all things change. It thinks that if we take care of only ourselves and those closest to us, if we try to keep things the same as we have always known them, everything will be okay – it doesn’t see that we can’t really be okay if our larger community or our environment is not okay and these things are changing over time. It doesn’t recognize that this is a long game, much bigger than our limited, individual lives.
Some folks will be tempted to say that all of these points can be argued. This is certainly true. We can even argue the point that the Earth is round if we feel it would be worth our energy. Yes, everything can be argued, but it will be hard for us to work together if we can’t come to some mutual agreement around our core values as a country. We have to agree there is ground to stand on in order to stand together. This requires civil conversation without winners and losers, not argument.
People don’t like to consider this, but I suspect another major factor in our divide today is a reaction to the sea change that happened with the last administration. The election of a Black man with a strong social justice bent was deeply disturbing to more Americans than we might like to admit. A significant portion of our country is grieving a perceived loss of respect for and trust in authority, tradition, and historic institutions.
Sure, change can be uncomfortable. The questioning of what has been familiar is unsettling. But, change is inevitable and without it we cannot grow and evolve. I only hope that we can dare to peer beyond our small selves and see the bigger picture. My wish is that we will tap into our humility and begin to really listen to one another. After all, as it has been said, together we stand, divided we fall.
- United Nations Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on his Mission to the United States of America
- Council on Foreign Relations: Trump’s Foreign Policy Moments 2017-2018
- Glied, S., Ma, S. & Borja, A. Effect of the Affordable Care Act on Health Care Access. May 2017.
- Harvard Business Review July/August 2017: Globalization in the Age of Trump
- Human Rights Watch: World Report 2018 – United States
- Khan Academy: The benefits and costs of US environmental laws
- National Geographic July 2018: A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment
- New Yorker June 2018: The Trump Administration Is Completely Unraveling the U.S. Asylum System
- PBS News Hour May 2018: Even without border wall funding, Trump has reshaped immigration policy
- The Guardian 8/23/2017: Charlottesville: United Nations warns US over ‘alarming’ racism
- Wikipedia: Foreign Policy of the Donald Trump Administration