I had identified a time for healing as the focus of this podcast episode a few weeks ago. At that time, I felt we had a lot of healing to do from the past several years of political strife, the last 10 months of the pandemic and its impact on us, the social injustices that can no longer be ignored and from the divisiveness that appears to have strengthened between groups of people with seemingly little chance of being resolved.
Little did I know that we would have yet another major event to heal from so quickly in the new year. The insurgence that occurred at the Capitol in Washington DC shocked and saddened most of us. It was telling proof that we can’t espouse hate and bigotry while promoting strength in the form of bullying and violence without consequence. It was also yet another stunning reminder that we have a major racism problem in this country, as if we haven’t already seen enough evidence of that.
How do we heal in such vitriolic atmosphere? Practicing mindfulness certainly helps, but it’s not going to be easy by any means. We have what feels like insurmountable problems, but the key may be to avoid looking at the whole picture. Covid 19 raging out of control, the government’s failure to manage it effectively, social injustice including systemic racism, economic disparity, and health and education inequality. Add to that a deep mistrust of government institutions and big corporations and frankly, we have quite the mess.
It feels impossible that anything will get better, but if we take a step back and recognize that we can’t change any of those things directly, only ourselves, it becomes a little more manageable. From the Confederate flag-flying rioter to the mask-denier to the unhappy voters resisting the election outcomes, they all have choices. They can choose to work together to solve our societal problems or they can continue living in denial of the shared reality that we all live in. And so can the rest of us. We are collectively responsible for the way our world looks and if we don’t like it, we can collectively change it. But we can’t accomplish anything until we get our own houses in order, so to speak.
Judgment, anger, denial – none of these behaviors helps us progress. They just breed more of the same. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg describes violence as “acting in ways that result in hurt or harm, judging others, having racial bias, blaming, finger-pointing, name-calling, reacting when angry, using political rhetoric, being defensive or judging who is good/bad or what’s right/wrong with people.” We have a lot of violence happening and that’s a point where we can all begin. We can think before we speak. We can self-regulate before we enter into a conversation. We can focus on the greater good instead of only being concerned with our own self-interests.
In improving relationships and reducing conflict at work, I frequently teach that we each have our own reality, clarifying that reality is based on our perceptions. Two people can look at the same image and see two different things, for example, based on their past experiences. One optical illusion graphic I use shows what appears to be a couple in an intimate position, but when the image is shown to children, they see only dolphins. This example illustrates the point that because children have not had a sexual experience, they cannot see the couple, but only the dolphins. Adults almost always only see a sexual image and I have to outline the dolphins for them before they can see them.
The point of this exercise is to encourage awareness that there is no absolute right or wrong, but merely different perspectives. We could eliminate much of the conflict we have with each other by being more open to differing opinions and perspectives. And that holds true, when we’re talking about individuals conversing or coworkers solving a problem. On a societal level, however, we cannot have differing perspectives of our shared reality.
Healthy, average adults, even if they have their own personal realities accept that their individual reality fits into a framework of facts, rules and a shared understanding of the bigger picture where based on observation or scientific evidence, the world works in a specific way. The sun always rises in the east. The earth spins on its axis. The human body needs water to survive. When presented with facts, we have the option of changing our minds. But even if we decide to ignore a fact, we cannot ignore that regardless of our individual perceptions, we all have a shared reality and acceptance into society means we agree to that and that our freedoms are limited based on the impact we have on others.
We all have the right to believe whatever we want up to the point that it causes others harm. Then we lose that right. Even in an individualistic country like the United States, individual freedom only goes so far. We do not have the right to cause others pain and suffering, economic damage, illness or death. We do not have the right to overthrow our government because we didn’t get our way in an election. We do not have the right to declare exemption from public health and safety rules in order to avoid the inconveniences involved because as a member of society, we have a responsibility to others, not just ourselves.
Before we can begin to heal, we each have to accept our individual role in society. Are our actions enhancing society or diminishing it? Are we contributing to the greater good or withholding from it? Are we taking more than we give? At a minimum, our choice of behaviors can be neutral, where we’re at least causing no harm, but it is in giving to others and in our contributions that we find meaning and purpose in our lives, so what is the endgame in refusing to participate?
The next step is empathy and for me personally, it’s too raw right now to approach. I can get there sometimes, but it takes a lot of inner work, a lot of forgiveness and a lot of cognitive effort to stop judging and open my heart towards those who don’t care if they cause me or others harm. That’s what the ego does and when I’m in a good place, so to speak, I can reach it. But today, the day after witnessing what happened in Washington DC, is not the day. I first have to heal from the deep fear that event evoked, related to feeling like I just couldn’t take any more uncertainty, from seeing the rioters as “them” instead of part of us, and from the anger towards a leader who actually incited what occurred with no accountability whatsoever.
But I will get there because I have to. We all have to if we want to thrive or maybe even just to survive. The only way to solve our problems is to cooperate and collaborate with each other, so the forgiveness has to happen, the empathy has to emerge and the judgment has to abate. How do we accomplish this? We start by healing ourselves. My meditations will be longer and my reflections deeper over the next few weeks. I’ll continue to practice gratitude, even for the events that occur that upset me because when things go wrong, we learn more. And I’ll remind myself that I am not an island unto myself but part of a society that I am responsible for contributing to in order to make my life, as well as others, better.
Be safe, please wear a mask and be mindful. Focus on healing yourself before you try to heal the world. And remember that in the end, we all want the same things – peace, good health, financial stability, love and happiness. If you’re feeling like you just cannot even start this process, try the loving kindness meditation. You can find several versions online, including a guided meditation on our YouTube Channel.
Stay aware of your feelings and don’t forget to practice self-compassion. Until next time.