How do we move beyond divisiveness, find our common humanness and listen without judgment in the current climate of ‘us vs. them’?
So here we are, post presidential election, November 2016. Half of our country is celebrating the results, the other half is mourning them; and it is believed that 45% of the American population did not even vote.
We have an enormous schism in our country. We all know that. The haves and have-nots, whites and people of color, male and female, conservatives and liberals, urban and rural — the list goes on. It seems this new president of ours is appointing people as advisors and leaders of his administration who embody and espouse many of the qualities we associate with racism, anti-semitism, misogynism, as well as anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric. Deniers of climate change are proposed for high posts regarding the environment!
To the half that I belong to who voted against the president elect, it seems as if our world is about to fall apart. It appears that history is about to repeat itself; a history where a charismatic figure (to some) gains control and preaches division and hate, who uses lies, scare tactics and blame to separate us from each other. That this could happen right here, in the United States of America — who would have ever thought that possible?
The question on so many minds seems to be: Where do we go from here?
“I am a pilgrim on the Path Of Love.” This is how Swami Kripalu described himself. I, too, follow this Path, a path filled with all kinds of challenges. I am a teacher and a student of this practice. And practice is actually what it’s all about.
I practice every day, and my practice takes many forms. I follow the suggestions of wise teachers, from ancient spiritual practices to my long-term study of A Course In Miracles. Many people who have studied a variety of spiritual teachings agree that we have a lot in common. They tell us that on a fundamental level, we, as human beings, are not different from one another. This is a hard concept to understand, from perspectives on both sides of the dividing line that we all create.
On the less extreme side, how am I like the person who is educated and living comfortably and can bring themselves to vote for a man like Trump for president, even if just to stir things up and rock the status quo in the political arena? In the extreme, I ask how am I anything like the person who paints swastikas and writes, “Let’s make America white again,” who tells people of color to “Go home” when their home is right here, who calls a woman making the difficult choice to have an abortion a murderer? These are just a few examples of what we are encountering now more than ever before. With the rise of a figure such as Trump as our President, many people are feeling empowered to express what we might call their darker sides. How can I relate to this ‘type’ of person?
And from their side, I imagine they might be thinking: How am I anything like this tree-hugging hippy dippy liberal type who not only doesn’t want me carrying my weapon around with me wherever I go, but wants to take my guns away from me, and is judging me because I live the way I do? Or how am I like this preppy gay person who thinks same sex marriages are natural?
Though I think it’s not an easy road to try to bring people with very diverse political and cultural orientations together, it feels to me like we have to be reminded of all that we share as human beings, and less about what divides us.
As A Course In Miracles teaches, separation is a recipe for suffering. As a people, a society, how can we promote community? How can we get to ‘know’ one another?
I believe this starts by learning to listen to each other, and perhaps not in the way we are accustomed to doing. We need to be fully present and focused on the person speaking. We need to hear what he/she has to say without the stream of thoughts going on in our own head. Listening without judgment. Listening without an agenda. Listening so that the other person, the one speaking, can ‘feel’ heard.
I imagine a series of get-togethers — maybe a potluck at a community center or the local firehouse, church or place of worship. I would call these meetings Community Co-Listening Opportunities. We eat together and then we listen to each other. We listen to our neighbors. They listen to us. We share whatever we’re enjoying, practicing, struggling with. We don’t try to fix anything, or change anything or anybody’s mind. We agree as part of the experiment to suspend any judgment. We agree to just listen and be there, and then to be heard ourselves, within the same context.
I don’t know if this is actually possible — if we can bring people from opposite sides of a spectrum together voluntarily for an experience like this. But I think if we can’t listen to each other and feel recognized and heard, if we can’t in some way honor the other’s point of view, then we have very little chance of finding common ground. We end up losing a valuable opportunity to accept each other, even if we don’t agree.
Neither side is ‘all’ right or ‘all’ wrong. Of course, we have certain basic moral standards that should be upheld by all, no matter what our opinions or beliefs may be. However, through understanding all that we have in common, we can learn to respect what we see as different. It’s a practice. It takes time. Then, hopefully, we all do our part in a constructive way to protect this vulnerable home we call earth and the rights and freedom we all want to continue to enjoy; starting by listening and understanding how we each interpret those words; rights, freedom.
Maybe we can even cultivate feeling gratitude for the miracle of diversity that is the human race. And ‘gratitude’ is one of my favorite practices.