Category Archives: Respect for life

Empathy Closes the Gap

Finding ways to relate to the “other”

Bring anger and pride under your feet, turn them into a ladder and climb higher.- Rumi

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, I believe we each have been deputized as ambassadors of good will. When things become so ugly, it is easy to get drawn into the rabbit hole of fear and contempt. While it is certainly important to speak out strongly against hatred, it is vital to stand as love. That is the strongest aspect of our being. Being able to align ourselves with our compassion will allow more people to recognize and come back to their own humanity.

Isis, neo Nazis, the KKK and similar terrorist groups represent a cancer that can claim us if we become disenfranchised from our hearts. Many people are drawn into those groups because of a prolonged isolation from love.

It becomes all too easy to put people out of our hearts when we are confronted by violence and atrocities fueled by ignorance, greed and fear. The motivation for us to strive not to give into hatred ourselves, is the toll it takes on our internal being, peace of mind and overall health. If we allow fear and loathing to dictate our speech and actions, the outer circle that we banish our “enemies” to, will start to contaminate the inner circle of our loved ones, as well as everything we hold dear.

I have talked to friends who have survived family abuse who said they finally came to forgiveness, not because they would ever condone what was done, but because it was the only way they could survive and have any semblance of wholeness.

One of the things, I believe, that has opened this floodgate of hate crimes is our increasing inability to talk to one another across a widening divide. While leaders have used fear of the “other” to gain personal power, average citizens are drawn into factions. They are carefully segregated and become calloused towards folks with who they might otherwise have been able to find common ground.

Professor of Sociology, Rob Willer, points out in his TED talk that many of us are going into our separate ideological silos. We watch different news, have different friends, we are reluctant to date someone from a different party and don’t want our children to marry across political lines. His suggestion for bridging the gap between us is what he calls “moral reframing.” It is recognizing that everyone has their own moral values. When you are speaking to someone about a button-pushing issue for them, use language that embraces their morals. Certain terminology that will allow them to let down their defenses long enough to actually listen to you.

I believe that life is, in part, a game of semantics. We all have a set of vocabulary words that we feel define our beliefs. We also have a set of words that set off flares for us. The key in this game is not to have the person you are trying to reach pull up the stakes of their circus tent and hit the highway on you.

“Moral reframing” will obviously be much harder to practice with people who have been indoctrinated into a hate group, but even within those dark circles, there are those who can still be reached.

I used to watch To Kill a Mockingbird every year, to remind myself what it means to be human. In one of the most powerful scenes, a small girl innocently dispels a lynch mob by talking kindly to one of its ring leaders, who seems to wake up and remember that he is a family man and a decent person at heart.

The time is now to start reaching out to those who have not yet reached the place where they are susceptible to becoming inhuman. This tragedy in Charlottesville, and the one in Barcelona, have shaken us up. There is a window of opportunity for us to start a conversation. I am not suggesting we start with the people perpetrating the violence but with people we know, maybe within our family, who belong to a different political party, who may be feeling the need to reach out as well.

We all feel innately that we are in the right. I was taught in theater school that when playing a villain, you do not play them as if they are choosing to be evil but make the audience feel, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Rob Willer ended his talk with the words, “Empathy and respect.” These are the pillars that hold up the building we are all sharing. They are the key to every philosophical and religious understanding.

It is also only natural that, with the tensions we are retaining, with all we encounter in the news, that we will use humor to lighten our perspective. While I am a fan of certain political comedy, and applaud the comedian’s ability to spotlight truth in the face of tyranny, I also know that there is a certain point where I can find myself tipping into vindictiveness.

I recognize that when we continue to insult and hurt one another’s feelings, it escalates our collective antagonism. The result has become increasingly more violent. We can begin to find ways to relate to those we consider to be “other” in small ways. The Hindu teacher, Yogananda recommended that we become “smile millionaires.” I have personally found that a genuine smile offered without an ulterior motive, can dismantle walls.

Perhaps practicing “moral reframing” even before we look for the right words to say to one another starts with a willingness to admit that those “other” people are still people, even when they are consciously or unconsciously identifying as monsters. If we are not at the place where we can admit that yet, then we can start by becoming more human ourselves.

 

“I can see you are me in disguise, let me wipe the tears from your eyes.”- The Levins

 

Being “Vintage” in our Disposable Culture.

Keeping things real in and out of business.

This week, my wife, Julia, and I took our laptop to the Apple store to get a new battery for it. We were told that all models before 2012 are considered “vintage” and Apple no longer works on them.

Our computer is a great product and, with a new battery, it will last a few more years. We surmised that Apple doesn’t work on “vintage” products because they want us to buy a new computer every few years, even though we don’t need to.

Before I ever considered buying a Mac, I remember their “Think Different” campaign.  They had posters of people like Albert Einstein, Jim Henson, Jane Goodall, Jackie Robinson, Pablo Picasso, Amelia Earhart and the like. They had a commercial that said:

Here’s to the crazy ones

The ones who see things differently…

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I just read a book called Mutant Message Down Under about some “crazy ones” who call themselves, the Real People. They are a small Outback nation of Aborigines, who have been around for fifty thousand years. In all that time, “they have destroyed no forests, polluted no water, endangered no species, caused no contamination, and all the while they have received abundant food and shelter. They have laughed a lot and cried very little. They live long, productive, healthy lives and leave spiritually confident.”*

They are “crazy” enough not to even want to change the world but to recognize how wonderful the world is, as it is.  They live with and honor the land, which provides all of their needs, for free. They honor each individual among them in a way that we reserve for the people on Apple’s Think Different posters.

One of these Real People noted:

“Your businesses were started so people could get better items collectively than they could get by themselves… But now the goal of business is to stay in business. It seems strange to us because we see the product as a real thing, and people as real things, but business isn’t real. A business is only an idea, only an agreement, yet the goal of business is to stay in business regardless.”*

Julia and I are grateful for our Mac and various technologies. They are powerful tools that help us create and share ideas. Still, we strive to be the “crazy ones” who will find another store to replace our computer’s battery. Being “vintage” ourselves, we believe that we are not living life to just buy new things. We are living life to generate as much love as we can.  We believe that we can recharge and even replace one another’s batteries with the way we honor one another.

We do not need to live in the Outback to appreciate the value of life. Even though living in the city makes it harder to see the stars at night, we can see them if we persistently look up.

*- Quotes from Mutant Message Down Under by- Marlo Morgan