The last time I wrote anything political was… Oh, I remember, NEVER. The world of politics is not something I have ever felt comfortable with probably because I get overwhelmed with ALL the information, statistics, rhetoric, facts, ideologies, opinions and basic filibustering that goes on. Not to mention the routine candidate bashing that ensues, regardless of party affiliation or who’s running for whatever office. It doesn’t take long for political conversations and reports to start sounding like adults on “The Peanuts” – whah, whah-whah, whaaah, wa-whah… whah, whah, whaaaaah.
And yet, here I sit, finding myself compelled to comment on “The Morning After.” Two days ago we re-elected President Obama, and on that day a friend asked me “What will you do the day after if the candidate of your choice isn’t elected?” The question haunted me all day, and throughout the evening as I watched the polling unfold on TV. And then I spent the day after the election watching the news and checking Facebook to see what conversations were going on, noticing how people were talking to each other, as well as what people were mourning or celebrating. Throughout the day I could hear the question reverberating in my mind. So here’s my answer. And I would put the same question to anyone reading this.
For better or worse, we have a two-party system, Democrats and Republicans, and whether we identify with either, neither or both, we also tend to look at political ideologies and issues along a spectrum of “left” and “right” or “liberal” and “conservative.” Generally speaking these are labels for our worldviews. A worldview represents a stage or level of consciousness that is alive through our cultural DNA. Just as the human body is made up of genetic DNA, which influences our features, so too does our culture express its DNA through values – psychologically, socially and spiritually. These are basic, invisible structures that inform our individual and collective perspectives and basically how we “be with each other.”
If I look back at a thousand of years of human history, I can see some of the stages we have evolved from and through, and are still passing through – traditional, modern, postmodern and beyond. These stages of evolution are mimicked in my life – they are dynamic, representing the values that drive my beliefs about money, politics, family, fairness, freedom, success, religion, love, justice, health, science, education, peace, and so much more.
It’s important to keep in mind that these different stages are general patterns, they aren’t rigid or static, and we can see all of them alive in our culture. A Traditional worldview holds more conservative values, and people tend to be affiliated with a particular religious group and its code of ethics. A Modern worldview is more secular, science may have replaced God and religion, and an individual is responsible for his or her own success – achievement is highly valued. Finally, the Postmodern view is sometimes represented by “the cultural creatives,” whose values lean toward liberal politics, creating an ecofriendly world, and oftentimes are self-proclaimed “spiritual, but not religious.”
So what does this have to do with politics and elections? It all sounds like a nice theory, right? For me, the only way I know how to respond differently when I find myself triggered by “the other side,” is to see through the eyes of the other, to see through their worldview. As the dust settles from the re-election, polls are taking place and being broadcast telling us how much we are still divided as a country, and so the conversations continue that will simply keep us separate. In a rough and simple explanation, understanding these differing worldviews is my work for “the morning after.”
Generally liberals tend to look at the cause of our problems and suffering objectively, meaning pointing the finger at outside institutions and systems. So if you’re poor or undereducated it’s because the system you live in oppresses you. There need to be interventions to redistribute the wealth and change the social institutions that are oppressing the underdog. The optimal goal is equality for everyone, and the system needs to be fixed to make this happen. If something is amiss in your life, your interior, it’s because something is amiss outside of you, your exterior.
Conservatives on the other hand will generally see the same issues, but identify a different cause for the problem. The reason a person is poor or undereducated is because they haven’t worked hard enough, or some other cause that is much more subjective. The answer comes from assuming more personal responsibility, tightening the belt on a person’s morals and ethics, and returning to tried and true family values that encourage rewards for working smart and working hard.
I’m tired of bipartisanship, it simply means us vs. them and either/or. I’m tired of how cruel we can be to each other because we think the “other guy” is going to drive our country into the abyss. I want a “yes, and… world.” So my work for “the morning after” is to embrace these differing worldviews, go beneath the surface of a cultural expression to find where our values meet, to find the place where I can set aside my own agenda long enough to look at you and say, “Tell me more,” and mean it. The place the Sufis refer to as “where the two seas meet.”
Think of it this way… when you look into water, whether a pool, lake or the ocean, at first we typically see our reflection. Eventually though, we see through the reflection to what is beyond – the lakebed, the ocean floor or whatever is underneath the surface. This is the practice of “Tell me more,” of recognizing that everyone is partially right. I must be willing to be changed, informed and expanded by what you have to say. These are my first steps to seeing another person’s perspective that might be radically different from my own because it holds the possibility for emerging solutions I may never have considered otherwise. My “morning after” work is to integrate the best of it all, to know there is the possibility that more is going on beneath the surface of our words and actions within our individual and collective consciousness.
And how do I create what I have been talking about? How do I put this into practice? For me, I know I can’t change Wall Street, I can’t make Democrats and Republicans get along, I can’t get Fox News or MSNBC to be more neutral, but I can do something in my own little corner of the world. It’s the only place that I can make a difference pretty quickly, and model the world I want to see. A world where any kind of progress, political or otherwise, is built on a foundation of shared goodness, where everyone has the right to be who they are, and we understand the need for justice and order as well as freedom and individualism. Where connection, expression and well-being rule the land – well, my little corner of the land anyway. So where do I start my practice? Have a conversation. Yup, you heard me: learn to converse with each other, IN NEW WAYS.
Because we are so different in so many ways it is imperative that we learn to cooperate not just to survive, but to thrive. Conversation is the only way I know to communicate if I want to transform conflict, creatively solve problems with others, and find evolutionary solutions where none seemed possible. And the catch is that I need to learn to converse wisely and compassionately. It’s not an inherent skill. I have to be willing to find new ways to connect through conversation. To the extent conversation can manipulate, denigrate, and separate, to that same extent and even more, it can heal, elevate, connect us to life’s energies and transform the seemingly impossible.
At its root, the word “conversation” literally means “to turn about with.” This is like dancing – dancing with! I am literally dancing with everything in my world. In my interior, I am dancing with my emotions, my thoughts and beliefs, my values and my story, and even at times in my jammies in the living room. In my exterior, I am dancing with you, our joys and sufferings, our bodies together, our shared language, Facebook posts, my fingers on the keyboard, the other drivers on the road, gratefulness with family, and the words of prayer I share with a friend. Life is a conversation with itself. It’s how we create our world, for better and for worse.
What did I do the day after? I chose to engage in conversation, to expand my knowledge, capacity and competency for participating in conversations that are typically triggering, but in new ways, in empowering ways. If I want to connect the fragmented pieces of my life, both inside and out, then I have to be willing to learn new dance steps.
My conversations must allow for people who speak a truth different from my own to be every bit as supported and respected as those who speak a truth like mine. My conversations must not only tolerate or accept differences, but actually seek them out. In this way, emergent solutions are forged from the passion of an entire group engaged in the conversation, and diversity consciously drives the evolutionary and transformational healing and learning, where every idea and every voice contributes to life’s conversation with itself.
So that’s what I did the “morning after,” which is really the work of every morning. I’m still learning to heal, elevate and connect with life’s energies with conversations. It’s a lifelong practice to look beneath the surface and step into the dance and learn your steps while teaching you mine. What did you do the next day as part of the life’s conversation already in progress?