Do I Need to Take “Sides?”
As I think of the world I want to see and help create, what comes to my mind are words like kindness, generosity, love, justice, compassion, humility, regeneration, collaboration, respect, connection, joy, reverence, unity, inclusiveness...
Yet when I look around me, especially in the political discourse, I see division, polarization, disrespect, arrogance.
I hear one “side” – let’s be honest, my side – talking about the election being a battle for the soul of America and clearly intending to espouse the values and qualities just mentioned. Yet I wonder, because we – the people on “my side” – get caught up in the negativity, blaming, divisiveness, and arrogance we
criticize the other side for. In this way, don’t we become what we hate? Even the language of “battle” reveals the underlying war mentality.
The thinking is that once “our side” wins in the elections, things will change radically and we will have the world/country we want. Yet will it stop the polarization that is so rampant -- on both sides? With a war mentality, the election can only produce winners and losers, with little mutual respect for each
other, much less hope for a bi-partisan future of creative possibilities.
I recently took a course entitled Political Hope by Charles Eisenstein. He invited me to consider the “story” – the unspoken belief system – we live in and how that affects how we relate to each other and all life on earth.
When we live in the “Story of Separation,” we see ourselves alone and separate from others, so we need to compete with others (for resources, power, and control) and dominate them, thinking only of our own needs. This creates a preeminent “war mentality” where the solution to any problem is to find an
enemy, dehumanize them, and defeat them by force.
From this story emerges the polarization we are living in now politically. Instead of listening to and trying to understand those who disagree with us, valuing what we may learn (and need to hear) from their perspective (and values worth considering and integrating into our thinking), we see them as the enemy, the bad guys, less “enlightened”, or duped. We of course are on the “good” or “right” side, on the moral high ground. We fail to see how condescending our sense of moral superiority appears to them, and how hollow it makes our appeals for “inclusiveness” sound. And we fail to look at the deeper questions that neither side is looking at - and the deeper conditions that need to change beneath any
side’s solutions or perspectives. This includes hidden assumptions that both sides agree on, that are embedded in the conditions that neither side really wants, or knows how to change.
By contrast, in the “Story of Interbeing,” people see themselves as fundamentally interconnected and belonging to a global network of relationships (with people and the planet) whose well-being ultimately determines the well-being of all of its parts. From this emerges a culture grounded in community,
seeking conditions that foster the common good and asking questions about how all needs are to be met. By finding our own unique contributions to a healthy, thriving whole, we are able to transcend our competing needs and perspectives and honor the distinct contributions of others.
So, back in the political arena, am I contributing to the “aren’t they awful” narrative? The narrative that my side has to defeat their side? Am I seeing “them” as bad people, so I can be right? This is a tactic of war that I fall into too easily. It leads me to ask myself what energy I want to put into the world through my presence and interactions. Anger, division, and reactivity? Or kindness, respect and compassion? I can do this well with the people on “my side,” but I struggle with people on the other side.
Sometimes I wonder whether, if I were born and raised in another part of the country, with different parents and circumstances, I might see things as people on the “other side” do. I’ve felt this when I have been in Texas in the winter seeing good people who see things in a very different way. It has been
challenging at times, but very meaningful, to practice listening without my automatic judgments and stereotypes. I’ve been surprised at times to find common ground on which a mutually respectful relationship can grow.
I had an experience last year when I was giving an “Introduction to Drawdown,” which focused on solutions to help reverse global warming, not on who caused it. Afterwards, a man came up to me to say that he wasn’t a believer in man-made climate change – but it didn’t matter. As he put it, we all want a better world, and he had really engaged with the Drawdown solutions and approach. It was truly a joy to connect with him. We even exchanged a hug (not possible now, of course!) as we found a desire for a better world, beyond our differences. I know in other circumstances, with another mindset, I might have seen him as one of the bad guys and dismissed him completely. Instead we were focusing together on creating positive change, without any debate on who caused the current situation.
So what does this all say to me as I engage in an electoral process that is already painfully polarized? How can I participate while maintaining my authentic desire to bring light into the darkness of political discourse?
Am I ready to let go of the fight, the “battle to save the soul of our country,” as though we can save our country’s soul by defeating and excluding the other half?
I am trying to catch myself when I feel my own reactivity and tendency to demonize “them.” In conversations and on social media, I am trying to practice a positive, respectful presence, an attitude of connection and interbeing. I am trying to stay open to receive the messages I need to learn from others’ perspectives. I still engage in supporting candidates I believe in, but I want to do that without the venom of demonizing their opponents. I want to seek out the questions that are not being asked in the polarized discourse. I want to focus on the common ground beneath partisan posturing.
This actually feels very counter-cultural and scary. Within my own “team right,” what will happen when I no longer give the expected response? Nonetheless, I am seeking courage to take this stand, so I can be the change I want to see in this nation. To cultivate the interbeing qualities of love, connection, vision, and interdependence, and bring them into my interactions with ALL people – no matter what “side” they are on.
May everyone each find their voice of love as we engage whole-heartedly in this electoral process. Our ultimate goal is not winning an election, but transforming our hearts and society. Creating a revolution in how we relate to one another and the earth – a revolution of Love – with no sides or winners or losers.
We are all one. We are all sacred beings on a sacred planet.
As Charles Eisenstein says,
“Every act is a political act. Anything you do to contribute to the new story is part of political change, too, because the story creates the system and we create the story.”