I’ve never watched an inauguration before. In years past, I was usually at work, so I only saw clips on the news upon returning home. But I watched the whole thing this year and surprisingly, felt very emotional. I had no idea how much I needed to hear the messages of strength through unity, diversity, determination, peace and respect. I was moved to see not only a woman, but a woman of color sworn into national office, finally. In one week, I went from feeling very sad and full of trepidation about our democracy, to feeling something I haven’t felt in a while. Hopeful. What a lovely feeling!
Now the hard work begins for all of us, on the heels of a really tough year. While the new administration has what appears to be overwhelming challenges to address on multiple fronts, they can’t change things alone. They can’t heal a nation from Washington DC. It’s time for each of us to look inward and make a choice. Do we want to take advantage of the many opportunities this country offers working together to address our problems or do we want to just tear it apart from a place of hatred and rage?
There are a lot of angry people right now, regardless of political affiliations. There are a lot of people suffering right now, whether from the pandemic, racial injustice, financial ruin or fear of change. There is a lot of healing to be done and a lot of forgiveness to both offer and receive. While the new president and vice president work on the societal challenges, we can work at an individual level to strengthen our own understanding of the importance of coming together and our own conscious or unconscious biases. We can begin to try to stop judging, try to stop seeing people different than us as adversaries, try to see other perspectives and try to focus on what we have in common. I realize that Yoda says "there is no try, only do," but in this case, I think we have to start with try, understanding that for many of us, we’re really talking about major shifts in our beliefs and practices. It won’t be quick, but if we at least try, we start the process and can continue to build upon it.
We have to hold ourselves accountable for any actions we’ve taken that may have caused harm or created divisiveness. We have to hold those who have broken the law accountable for their actions. Having empathy and even love for others includes holding people accountable for their behaviors. That’s how trust is re-established and provides a common vision for all of us to guide us forward.
We can also recognize that telling someone to stop believing in what they believe doesn’t work. There is a solution that could work. It’s mindful listening, which means to set aside judgments and ego-based righteousness and simply listen to another person completely. We don’t have to agree with anything anyone says, but most of us don’t listen at all because we’re either internally criticizing, or thinking about what we will say in rebuke to what the person says, thereby missing a good chunk of what they’re actually saying. If we could listen empathetically, curious about what the speaker really needs, we might be surprised to find common ground.
It may be too soon for many people to be open to contributing to a healing process and that’s okay. If everyone committed to not spreading hate, that alone could propel us forward to creating a country and even a world that is more equitable, empathetic, considerate and just. We can take our time to process our emotions, to wrestle with our anger and judgments, and to reflect on our belief systems, but if we’re not spreading more hate, that’s progress.
We all have the same basic needs, from psychological safety, to good health, to secure finances, to a desire to be happy. It can be very hard to remember that whether a democrat or a republican, or a Q-Anon follower, or a militia group member, this is true.
What leads people to become conspiracy theory devotees or armed militants or even terrorists, is an attempt to fulfill an unmet need. I’m in no way saying we should just provide everyone with whatever they need. But I am saying that it is the pursuit of our needs that can cause us to go astray if we can’t meet our needs within the context or structure we live in. We’re still accountable for our behaviors and the paths we choose, but at a societal level, we need to consider why so many people find it challenging to meet those needs within the framework we’ve established as a nation.
It feels to me like many of our problems are based in a fear of there not being enough. Whether money or jobs or access to healthcare or education or other opportunities, we’re operating from a limited perspective that we have to take what we need before someone else takes it from us, and that is of course combative and adversarial. There is more than enough of anything we need available. We clearly don’t have an effective infrastructure to ensure everyone has access to it, but I think we can fix that, together. But before we try to fix that big problem, we may need to start by working on fixing our thoughts.
Just as we all have the same needs, we also need shared values and common goals. That’s what holds a society together and allows us to maximize and leverage all of our strengths, skills and energy. Our democracy, that experiment I was just questioning last week, held. We have an opportunity now to dedicate our efforts toward strengthening it, to designing a nation that is more equitable, more just and more compassionate. What does that look like for you?
The loving kindness meditation is a powerful practice that can help us expand our empathy and compassion toward others. You can find a guided loving kindness meditation on our YouTube channel and multiple variations online as well. Any meditation you practice regularly not only helps you feel better, but also increases the activity in the brain where empathy resides. If you haven’t started meditating yet, perhaps now is a good time.
As for mindfulness, keep in mind that as you see what you might have perceived as your enemy in the past, it’s challenging not to judge. Mindfulness includes non-judgment of self in addition to non-judgment of others, so don’t be harsh with yourself. As I mentioned last week, I’m certainly finding challenges with this. But if we don’t try, where do we end up? Divided, fighting, lacking, hopeless? Why would we choose that over psychological safety, good health, financial security and feeling happy?
I wouldn’t, so I’m going to work on it. Sorry, Yoda, but I’ve got to try.
Have a wonderful week.
Don’t miss my segment this Saturday on the Get Out of Your Own Way Masterclass Series. The complimentary series is going on now, on how to eliminate the beliefs, excuses, and distractions that are keeping you from tackling your most ambitious goals. You can start listening to multiple thought leaders and receive free giveaways today by registering on our website and clicking on the banner. My segment, Overcoming Your Internal Doubter, airs on January 23rd and we’ll be giving away one of our most popular online classes on time management and productivity. So really, don’t miss it!