Regardless of political affiliation, I think most U.S. citizens are at least somewhat relieved to have the presidential election behind us. I realize that there are still legal challenges carrying on, but the consensus seems to be that we’re finally moving forward again.
In thinking about what it means that about half the country disagrees with the other half, and in hearing repeatedly in the media how terribly divided we are, I at first felt sad that we’ve arrived at this point. It’s a little tragic to consider how much better we could be doing as a country if we were working together, cooperating with each other and unified in tackling the big issues that face us. Splintered or divided, we lose our collective power and can’t flourish and succeed. We just sort of muddle along which falls so short of what we’re capable of.
Fretting about something this enormous however, does no good, so I switched gears to consider how we can fix this and was immediately overwhelmed with how impossible that feels. That’s because I’m looking at the big picture, which is way too big for one human to feel like they can manage. As I reminded myself that I cannot change other people, only myself, I finally settled on something that was less terrifying. What can I do to contribute toward our country healing and growing?
I think one factor that has been greatly lacking for years, at least in this country, is accountability. Without accountability, there can be no trust and we really need a lot of trust to begin healing the ruptures that have occurred across the country. While I can’t force anyone else to be accountable, I can be accountable for my own words and actions. I can mindfully observe whether my words are creating a positive impact or harm. I can change my language to focus more on the positive, which will begin with reframing “divisive” to “differing viewpoints.” I don’t want to give any more energy to how divided we are and that’s not just pollyann-ish fantasy.
We have always had different viewpoints in this country and are blessed with the freedom to express them. Even now, if you look at a broad picture of the U.S., most people are not screaming in the streets, threatening others with violence or even buying into the big, scary election fraud conspiracies. Most people are going about their business just like they always do. Most people’s lives were not upended because of who did or did not become president overnight. Yes, we have differing ideas about how the country could operate, but that doesn’t have to make us enemies.
That leads to the second reflection I had, which is that we’ve moved into this space where we’ve been conditioned to see the other as our enemy by politicians, media outlets, social media and conspiracy theorists. I choose to stop listening to it and to take back my power. When we stop seeing people as people, but as objects, we lose our moral compass and integrity. We declare ourselves better than those “objects,” allowing us to become self-centered and exclusive. We cause harm. Our internal guideposts become floppy instead of solid. Labels objectify people. Instead of a person, he’s a republican. Instead of a person, she’s a left-wing liberal. Instead of a child, he’s an illegal immigrant. Instead of a person down on her luck, she’s a vagrant. Once we see others as these objects, it’s easy to treat them cruelly or thoughtlessly or even with malice because we’re no longer seeing their humanity. I can mindfully practice seeing every other person as a person, not their label.
We all have the same universal needs as human beings, be it safety, security, autonomy, financial comfort, good health or self-actualization. We all need respect, dignity and compassion. We don’t need to fulfill these needs by depriving other people of them. We can all meet our needs through our own efforts as well as by supporting others in their efforts. But we have to see each other as people first. Not objects. Not enemies.
It seems to me that the biggest contributing factor to our current condition is a complete breakdown in communications. Inflamed by political rhetoric and a maladapted interpretation of what makes a person strong versus weak, coated in a big dose of fear-mongering, civil and respectful communication has fallen apart. How in the world can we fix that? One solution I’ve heard from others is to simply agree to disagree, thus avoiding a conflict. I don’t think we can do that anymore. Our political landscape has pushed us beyond policy differences. It’s personal now. And that’s at the heart of why the differences between Americans have become so vitriolic.
We can’t just jump into a conversation with someone who has an opposite viewpoint now and expect it to be calm and productive. We’re not ready. We need to work on ourselves first, getting our egos under control, re-learning how to see each other as people, and practicing accountability for our own words and actions. Once we accomplish that, then we can move towards recognizing our common humanity and our universal needs. We can begin by considering what the unmet needs are of the person we disagree with. What are our own unmet needs? Can we find a common solution to address both of our needs?
Once we can achieve that state, compassion re-enters the conversation. Instead of judging the other, we can have compassion for their needs as well as our own. That may be where civil discourse can emerge again. Then we can focus on not only our needs, but our values. Despite all of the mayhem and madness erupting between groups of people right now, I’m betting that if we could get to our core values, we have more in common than not and of course, those values are going to tie into our universal needs like safety, security and freedom.
Let’s not forget that much of what drives our behavior is based on our beliefs and that we tend to think that our beliefs are true. Beliefs are incredibly powerful, but beliefs are not truth. Beliefs are just thoughts we have had repeatedly over time, many implanted in our minds by someone else and especially powerful if that someone else was a person of authority like a parent, teacher, minister or leader. As a thought gets reinforced repeatedly over time, our brain interprets this thought to be important and looks for more evidence in the world to reinforce the thought – to make it “true.” Remember, our ego always wants to be right. Once we’ve discovered that evidence, our belief becomes “the truth,” but we know that can’t be true because if it was, everyone would have the same beliefs.
I’m not asking you to sacrifice your beliefs, but only to question them. If you have a belief that causes someone else harm, just take some time to consider where that belief came from, are there any actual facts to substantiate that belief and what might happen if you were open to an opposing belief on that subject. If you stopped believing that belief, what would the cost be? Could there be a benefit? Notice that none of this requires you to change your belief – it’s just a reflective exercise. It is this same questioning that can support you through moving from a fixed to a growth mindset, which is something we all need in order to flourish in life. And once we’re flourishing individually, we’re able to extend that state of mind out into our communities and maybe, slowly, we can extend it across our country so that we can be the beacon of hope, success and progress that deep in our hearts, we all want to achieve.
It starts with us, individually. We can’t fix the messes of our outer world until we clean up our own internal messes. Our relationship with ourself sets the tone for our relationships with everyone else, so let’s start there.
Speaking of flourishing, I wanted to share my sorrow at the passing of Alex Trebek. I’m happy for him that he’s no longer suffering, but it is such a cultural loss. It is absolutely fascinating that while many may see him objectified as a game show host, he was so much more. He had a profound impact on my life, which does sound odd, but when I started watching Jeopardy every evening in the 1980s, it woke something up in my brain. I was so proud of myself when I knew the answers and deeply curious about the topics I did not know. I feel certain that I was motivated to go to college in part because of that show. I wanted that knowledge. When I first moved to Los Angeles in the late 80’s, I tried to get on the show. One look at the qualifying test told me I wasn’t ready, but again, it certainly motivated me to learn more. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I’m grateful to Alex Trebek for his kindness, generosity and perfect personality as host which inspired millions of people to broaden their knowledge.
When we think that one person can’t do anything in the face of big, complicated problems, it’s just not true. We each influence and motivate others. We can each be kind, compassionate and empathetic to others. We can each contribute to creating a better world for ourselves, our children and future generations. It starts with just a little bit of mindfulness.
I’m excited to share that I will be speaking at the Podcast Wellness Week! The weeklong livestream and podcast event will be held November 30th-December 4th and I’d like to invite you to join me for my session as well as tons of amazing livestreamed panels, sessions, daily meditations, and wellness content throughout the week. My session, Meditation, the Monkey Mind and the Benefits of Disconnecting with Every Thought in Our Heads, will be on Wednesday, Dec. 2nd at 10:00AM PST.
Join guided meditation artist Chel Hamilton of the Mediation Minis podcast as she leads this discussion on quieting the mind and the benefits of meditation featuring me and Dr. Christine Forte Klotz from the Mental Oasis podcast. We’ll offer meditation and perspectives, tips and tricks to help bring balance to our minds, and as a result, our lives.
Podcast Wellness Week will feature daily exclusive livestreams with world-renowned wellness experts including Hollywood Veteran and founder of The Inner Fitness Project, Tina Lifford, John Gray, author of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, 6th generation shaman, author and host of Ancient Wisdom Today podcast, Shaman Durek, wellness influencer and founder of Philosophie superfoods Sophie Jaffe and therapist and author Dr. Adi Jaffe of IGNTD podcast, along with therapist and author, Kati Morton of Ask Kati Anything podcast!
The event also features two daily live-streamed panels discussing mental health, sleep, meditation, positive mindset, fitness and nutrition with well-known wellness podcasters, along with daily meditations. The panels will be livestreamed for free on Podbean via your browser and the Podbean App. You can also purchase a full pass for $25 to replay recordings of all the sessions at your convenience and access bonus content.
I’m excited to be part of an event that will provide resources, community-building, and collaboration about these vital wellness topics and I sincerely hope you can join us.