Tag Archives: Rumi

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


Bowie Lives!



When my friend Mark Stidham texted me at 5:30am on Monday with a David Bowie quote, I thought he was pulling a nostalgic all-nighter, not a vigil.  It was when I saw Marion Siegel’s post about Bowie passing that I understood how relative our perception is.  We think we know what our friends, heroes and esteemed villains are up to, but we hardly know what we are up to.

The poet Rumi said “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there,” David Bowie was that field.

I first saw a picture of Bowie on my friend Andy Goldman’s wall, which was a shrine to guitar gods and rock legends.  Bowie was wearing a dress and he scared me.  I felt I was getting in over my head. Instinctively, I knew he was deep. That picture was from 1970.


Bowie was an element, a fire that threw out sparks for almost fifty years. For a good solid fourteen years he was seriously way ahead of his time and out of this world. He was not only the king and queen of Glam rock but he was a poet, a shape shifter, the embodiment of Change.

bowie thin white duke

He gave generations permission to be themselves beyond social and institutional restrictions.  He expanded our definition of freedom:

“And I want to believe In the madness that calls ‘Now’ And I want to believe That a light’s shining through Somehow

And I want to believe                                                                                                                                                               And you want to believe And we want to believe And we want to live Oh, we want to live… I want to live… Live”

Cygnet Committee

“Oh no love! you’re not alone You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care Oh no love! you’re not alone No matter what or who you’ve been No matter when or where you’ve seen All the knives seem to lacerate your brain I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain You’re not alone…Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful Oh gimme your hands.”

Rock and Roll Suicide

“How many people lie instead of talking tall?…

You’re a flash in the pan, I’m the Great I Am.”

Black Star

Right up until the end, he changed his persona into a blind oracle that looked like it arose from Pan’s Labyrinth; Lazarus rising from the grave to take the dying singer’s final curtain call.

Bowie lazarus

Rock star, Movie Star, White Star? He says no, “I’m a Black Star”  He is gravitational, he is the alternative to a Black Hole.

He is our chance to rise to our most outrageous and live our expression to its fullest.

Bowie lives!

Bowie Low

Beautiful Place to Be- a lyric by The Levins

Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Krishna picked up Rumi on a slow boat to China-

Searching for Utopia, ended up in India, reading the Tao Te Ching…

In comes the waiter with tiny cups of china and fills them up as he begins to sing:

“All the world is contained in this tiny cup of tea.  There’s room for all, no matter how small and where we agree… it’s a beautiful place to be.”

Gathered at the table, I’m sure we can agree, if we’re willing then we’re able to –

Let each other simply be.

Seeing eye to eye is a mighty feat, put our differences aside

Come on, everybody’s here, let’s eat!

If you are a poet and you find yourself in chains,

make the tyrant laugh, find the sweet refrain.

Everyone has something valuable to say,

Let’s become a choir and sing our separateness away.

“All the world is contained in this tiny cup of tea.  There’s room for all, no matter how small and where we agree… it’s a beautiful place to be.”


The Levins are a harmony-driven acoustic duo dedicated to making the world a happier place.