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Gillian Sanger

How can mindfulness help to bridge our perceived divides?

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As I've been watching the news and scrolling through social media over the past couple of months, I've noticed certain divides expanding: the divide between the right and the left, between lockdown advocates and lockdown protesters, between those that follow mainstream news and those that follow alternative news sources.

So I am wondering if we can discuss how mindfulness might help us to soften these perceived gaps. While yes, it is apparent there is a gap between certain viewpoints, can we focus on what actually unites us? I know there is also a growing sense of community and support in many places as well - so the story is not only about division. And yet, I think there is something worth looking at here: How can we take our personal mindfulness practice, understandings, and insights and use that to unite and ground the collective?

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This is a question I contemplate a lot. My present thoughts are that the wish to bridge these divides is beneficial to the extent it helps us tune in to how we might be too righteously grasping our own views and it motivates us to resolve not to make things worse through unkind speech and actions. It can inspire us to soften and kindly listen whenever civil discourse is available and to find and express common ground.

At the same time, I believe the wish to bridge these gaps can be overly idealistic and reflect some wishful thinking rooted in denial and conflict avoidance. We are social animals and want to belong to our community and see it function harmoniously. When it does not, we feel a most uncomfortable dissonance between our compassion for suffering and our allegiance to the community, our craving to belong and get along. To resolve the discomfort it becomes easy to rationalize not taking appropriate actions but to maintain a semblance of harmony and/or loyalty. Through mindfulness we might sense into these tensions, emotions, and attitudes and see how they shape our intentions.

We must adhere to our truths, for example that non-harming and promoting the wellbeing of all beings to the greatest practical extent is Important for moving toward a harmonious and thriving community. Through our practice we intend to do so from a place of kindness and warmth as opposed to hostility and aversion. But, often in this milieu our compassion must be fierce. Fierceness might be just simply and gently saying, “no,” asking for the information on which another bases his or her opinion, or looking for opportunities to introduce discreetly pertinent information whenever it will be tolerated. Where we are unsure, we could offer, “I’m not sure, but I have [whatever concern],” or something similar. Often we will be uncertain how to act or respond. I nevertheless think we should not shrink from being perceived as consistent advocates of views that might be unpopular with others. It then is not necessary nor even advisable to always speak up. I wish I really were skillful at any of this and am eager to learn what others contribute.

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Thank you so much for this thoughtful reflection David! It's an interesting point you make about being overly idealistic. It's not something I've thought about too much when I've explored this subject (in my own mind, through readings and teachings, etc), but I can absolutely see what you are saying. I think this also comes down to perhaps a misperception along the lines of, "Surely there has to be a peaceful, pain-free resolution to this." Perhaps that's not a conscious thought, but I think we sometimes expect common ground to be peaceful - or maybe we just hope for it to be. But as you said, sometimes our compassion is fierce - and sometimes it's not comfortable. I think this is all a part of the human experience.

Have you heard of the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg? His work on Non-Violent Communication is really inspiring. I often refer to his work to better understand what's going on in the world. For example, one of his main points is that beneath whatever our 'position' is, there are certain needs wanting to be addressed. When we are actually able to identify the needs on either side of an argument, it's easier to find a resolution. 

Here's a link to his 'Needs Inventory' if you're interested in reading more: https://www.cnvc.org/training/resource/needs-inventory

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Also, I've recently been listening to a ton of podcasts and videos of Charles Eisenstein. He's an incredible philosopher in my eyes.

Here's a link to one of his videos on 'How to Discuss Polarizing Topics':

 

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Interesting material. Thanks for your insights and thoughts. I think that mindfulness inherently brings people together because it's about becoming grounded and centered, and at core, we are all the same. Our ideas and opinions are simply projections of our individual egos, and with meditation and mindfulness, we can learn to not be so attached to our egos, and more attached to humanity. Also, more accepting of other's viewpoints. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald said, intelligence is being able to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. I would add, without judgement.

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I enjoyed exploring the Center for Nonviolent Communication website. Wow, that's a lot of "needs" and a lot of "feelings" or emotions! I struggle with what to say because I don't want to seem resistant or overly skeptical and pessimistic, so I'm just going to say this, "Sure, we should try to incorporate more of these solutions into our lives, but don't expect magic." I guess I already have outed myself as a cynic, huh?

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Haha, not at all @David Weiskopf.

I do think that it's possible to find common ground if we are able to connect with the need of the other 'side' as being something we share (even if in a different setting, at a different time in life), but I also think that the journey to getting there is not always pretty. It's not something we can always accomplish simply by bringing this to light because humans are so complex - emotions are so complex! But, that said, I do think that humans can evolve to a place of greater mutual understanding (who knows what the road to getting there looks like though).

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I agree with both of you. Humans are so eager to categorize and find themselves superior in some way. It will take a paradigm shift. I do also believe in the possibility, but there are many obstacles.

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Hello @Gillian Sanger, @David Weiskopfand @Jo L,

This is a complicated question without an easy answer. I can't add anything substantial to what has already been said. Yes, we do have to understand other perspectives and be able to hold competing perspectives, without judgement. Being mindful of our needs and the needs of others is a pathway to finding common ground. I am a little familiar with Dr. Marshall Rosenberg's work and believe that we all have basic needs and much conflict is caused because competing individual’s and groups have different methods and approaches to meet those needs. Unfortunately, the approaches to meeting those needs are often carried out in negative and self-defeating ways that causes harm to the self and others. I, like David, find it challenging to simply accept other people or groups who are causing harm. There is a time and place when the appropriate response is to exercise "fierce compassion" and say "no" to actions that cause harm and lead to injustice.

One thing I am working on within our current political divide is to work on understanding mindfully why I react the way I react to the strong opinions of others when I sense injustice. If I am not caught up in my own strong feelings and emotions, I can feel them, know that are present and understand my reactions when I feel my needs are being challenged. If I can process this mindfully, then I can respond with equanimity. This allows me to move beyond anger and self-righteous indignation. Within that space, I can stop feeling angry and see the human being or group who are trying to meet their own basic needs. I may not feel comfortable with how they are trying to meet those needs but I can still recognize their humanity. They also want to be happy, healthy, safe and secure. This allows space to exercise "fierce compassion" and say "no" to injustice without anger or aversion. Then I am in a position to respond from a state of equanimity. I can challenge social injustice and still recognize and acknowledge the human being who may be suffering and attempting to free themselves from suffering.

At the very least, if anger and indignation is not present, people and groups with different options can talk with each other instead of at each other. This is all well and good in theory but difficult to practice in the real world. But as I write this, I plan to make this my aspiration and part of my mindfulness practice. 

Regards,

Gene

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Indeed difficult to practice! However, I think it's also great to acknowledge that there can be an in-between way of being, or a transitional one. For instance, compared to how I was before, I am MUCH quicker at acknowledging where I've used an angry or condescending tone with my partner for instance, and I would say I am pretty swift now (though not perfect) at apologizing for it and then shifting to a state of open, curious listening. I think it's worth noting where we  ourselves and others make baby steps in the more compassionate, conscious direction.

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4 hours ago, Gillian Sanger said:

Indeed difficult to practice! However, I think it's also great to acknowledge that there can be an in-between way of being, or a transitional one. For instance, compared to how I was before, I am MUCH quicker at acknowledging where I've used an angry or condescending tone with my partner for instance, and I would say I am pretty swift now (though not perfect) at apologizing for it and then shifting to a state of open, curious listening. I think it's worth noting where we  ourselves and others make baby steps in the more compassionate, conscious direction.

HI @Gillian Sanger,

Thanks for this response. Good for you for recognizing the feelings of anger and how that influenced how you communicated with your partner. Your awareness allowed you to move beyond anger and be compassionate. I had that very feeling yesterday, recognizing annoyance and then changing how I responded with a friend.

It makes me think about something that I am reading right now in Radical Acceptance. Tara Brach (2003) talks about how social activists like Gandhi and Mandela developed a radical acceptance of their life suffering. She says, "[w]ith clear comprehension, they saw the potential suffering of angry reactivity, and remained mindful of their intention to benefit others...[and] freed themselves to work without bitterness or self-pity for peace and justice" (Brach., 2003., p. 41). 

This makes me think that if we all can move beyond our "anger”, this would be significant step towards more compassionate responses, bridging perceived divides.

 

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I have no expertise in these areas. But, in my experience people pursuing effective communication often confuse it with effective emotional regulation. (Perhaps this is an unfair projection of distrust or some other bias on my part.) In order to achieve both, they often seem to skip over important steps in acknowledging difficult emotions and what those emotions are trying to tell us, something that always should be honored. Essentially they end up repressing the emotions, even after acknowledging them. LOL, but their features and posture often communicate those emotions anyway.

Judging difficult emotions, like anger, or labeling them as being "negative" or "bad" encourages this result. Repressing emotions has been shown to be unhealthy and often counterproductive for effective communication. Moreover, being judgmental and repressive toward expressions of difficult emotions in others can be hurtful and harmful to those others. I think this sort of activity has a way of desensitizing us to actual people in the flesh, of inhibiting emotional intelligence, and causing us to align with groups, causes, or leaders that we find alluring but often display significant amounts of rigidity and intolerance. In my mind, this tendency is similar to the "awestruck effect." https://ideas.ted.com/the-dark-side-of-charisma/  It helps to remember that even inspirational figures like Gandhi and Mandela had their dark sides, particularly Gandhi. It is reported that both displayed insensitivity to their families.

This is not to negate anything Gillian and Gene have said. My hope is to place what was said in a fuller perspective about how we move beyond anger. I think Buddhism is often misunderstood, in my view, to encourage the repression of certain "negative" or "bad" emotions. I do not recall the precise quotation, but the Buddha denied teaching that one should pursue any practice always; what he taught was pursuing whatever practice leads to wholesome, skillful, or beautiful results. For beginners at meditation, this might mean trying to subdue difficult emotions temporarily in order to gain greater stability and spaciousness of mind, but later it might mean sensing into those very same emotions and exploring them as naturally occurring phenomena to learn their conditions and effects more fully. I don't say this to invoke the Buddha as an authority but to attribute and repeat what I think is very sound advice. A natural consequence of following this advice might be greater care and compassion for self and others and a lessening of any tendency to feel hostility or irritation. LOL, I'm still working on that, but these things happen gradually over time, not in some incredible epiphany.

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Excuse me if I am becoming burdensome, but I really felt invigorated and inspired by this conversation, particularly Gillian's positive attitude, but also all the nuances the other contributors offered. It actually helped me feel freer for a time. I was so inspired I went searching on the internet for an article from a teacher or counselor that expressed what I was trying to say better than I could. This was the second article that popped up and it was near perfect. https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/article/freeing-the-mind/ May we all live with ease.

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I am sorry, I am not in the reading mood here with political issues and such.  Here is what I feel and understand is happening.  With so many conflicting stories it is hard to focus on what is actually helpful here to comment on, I found in Facebook especially.  After going through the tons of different raves, complaints, hypes, and serious urgent postings; it has gotten my anxiety up only one time.  After contemplating it much, it seems that we all have a role to play in the environment of issues of today.   

I truly feel that there are those of us that will calm others, those that will be anxiety ridden, those that will give the news as it is and unfortunately those that manipulate the news and many other types of people trying to understand or make others understand their way of the issue.  It is important that we remain calm and yet urgent in the matters that are very serious but not go overboard to have multiple nervous breakdowns (depression) or anxiety issues (anger instigators) and seek a common ground in order to heal and move forward in a positive, productive, reliable outcome.  

I could never do what political people do, because that is not me.  And they cannot do what I do.  We all must find what we do best that provides a service that helps and heals people that are asking and needing it.  If we all stop and ask ourselves, is this creating a better outcome for my health and existence?  if not why not?  What can be done?  

I make sure I only watch or listen to the actual news on a trusted news station.  Nothing 3rd party.  As they say hear it from the horses mouth.  Plus outcomes will give us true answers as to who is talking crazy and who is not.  

I agree that we all have common ground and the community I am in Omaha Holistic organization here, we took a poll and there is not one of us that has issues concerning what is going on.  I hope others here understand to be calm, meditate, contemplate before responding to others.  Communicate with people of the like of you.  Consider the source and personal health.  

I am so happy and grateful, you are all here with me.  We are peas in a pod.  somewhat larger...lol  

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