I spent a lot of time over a few days thinking about and participating in a conversation recently, on Facebook, about abortion rights. Normally, this is a high stress, heated issue. And while it did dominate my thoughts, it was not in an angry way – because neither of us wanted to fight. We just wanted to speak, openly and honestly, about why we believe what we do. Even though we knew that we would not convince the other person to change sides. And maybe that’s the reason it worked – because we weren’t trying to convince someone else, we were simply speaking for ourselves, and witnessing our own beliefs.
Political debate will always be a part of who I am. I have strong feelings about rights and equality and freedom, and not allowing an elite small group to make decisions for those who they can’t possibly represent or understand. In a lot of ways, I do think our democracy has evolved into elected oligarchy. Politicians claim to speak for the majority, or for their constituents, but really, they are speaking for themselves and those who agree with them. Everyone is shouting into a vacuum, and no one can win, because they are spending so much time trying to convince others to follow their beliefs that they have forgotten to explain why they believe them in the first place.
So here is my challenge to you: take some time to explain, in a journal, or on Facebook, or to another person, some belief that really matters to you. Explain why it matters, how it affects your belief system, and what its roots are. Don’t worry about convincing them that you’re right, or that they should do things your way, just explain why you feel the way that you do. And see how it makes you feel. And tell me about it in the comments.
“Why do we need to feel virtuous? When I feel self-righteous, am I in the mode that can produce terrorism?” ~Madeleine L’Engle, Bright Evening Star
Back to the question of being “right” again…I can’t get away from it. When I need to be right, am I any better than anyone else who needs to be right? Of course, I’m not, but it’s so easy in those moments to convince myself that because the causes I fight for are just and focused on inequality, it’s okay for me to close my mind to what anyone else has to say. And it isn’t any better…but it’s so easy to just turn off that little voice that says that sometimes being right doesn’t make things any better…and it can definitely make things worse.
My friend K. writes a blog about parenting, and she wrote a few days ago about how people judge other parents by their own standards of parenting…and how this turns people against each other. We all want so much to believe that we’re doing the right thing for ourselves, for our families, for our Gods, for our causes, that we convince ourselves by shutting out the rest of the arguments. We try to yell louder than everyone else.
And so, when I read the quote from Madeleine L’Engle that opened this piece, it really hit me how true it is. As I struggle with what it means to be right, I’m also struggling to find the balance between war and peace, destruction and creation. So much of what destroys in this world comes not from the goal of destruction, but from the goal of proving once and for all who is right. And I don’t want to be right if that’s the cost.
But in those moments of self-righteousness and indignant political/religious/social anger, it can be really hard to remember that…
“Hate has erased all the normal barriers…Hate is contagious. We asked ourselves how immune we were…” ~Madeleine L’Engle, Bright Evening Star
This week I received a long message from a young Mormon man in Canada. In several thick paragraphs, he poured out his story—a story of an orthodox Mormon family wrecked by illness and addiction, of divorce, poverty, and growing up on the streets, of an overworked single mother and an oldest son looking out for disabled younger siblings, while taking abuse from his addict dad, who after much struggle is trying to get his life together.
“Self-importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it – what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellowmen. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.” ~Carlos Castaneda
I have spent a lot of my life feeling wronged. Feeling like I was being judged. I have spent so much time thinking about what other people might be judging about my words or actions, that I’ve lost sleep, I’ve lost my temper, I’ve lost precious time…and what have I gained?
When you think about it, it’s pretty vain to think that other people spend as much time thinking about what we do or say as we think they do. If anyone else spent as much time thinking about my words and actions as I spend thinking about what they think of them, I’d think they were crazy. But self-importance, self-absorption…somehow that’s come to be normal, not crazy. Somehow it’s become a way of life to think about yourself so much. But for me, at least, I’ve found that it’s incredibly unhealthy.
When I spend my time ruminating about what people think of me, I’m not spending that time reading books, meditating, enjoying my family and friends, or doing anything else that I love. I’m not building positive relationships with people, if anything I’m undermining them. And this has been a hard lesson to learn. When I’ve felt judged, I have said things I didn’t mean, or things I meant in the moment that should never have been said out loud. I’ve hurt others, and myself.
It’s an uphill battle. But I’m climbing…slowly…
”When I am able to resist the temptation to judge others, I can see them as teachers of forgiveness in my life, reminding me that I can only have peace of mind when I forgive rather than judge.”
- Jerry Jampolsky
It’s really hard not to judge people. It’s something I struggle with almost every day. I make snap judgments, jump to conclusions, make statements that are broad and sweeping…it’s been something that has damaged relationships with friends, caused friction with co-workers, and generally made me a difficult person to interact with in many cases.
And I’m training to be a psychotherapist. My job is to be the person who holds people in warm regard and offers them a non-judgmental safe space. This is hard. But I think this is one of the lessons that I’m in this life to work on. All the years of struggling with my own judgmental impulses is a part of the journey, and I hope that I can weigh all of those experiences as ways that I have learned. I’m not saying I’m there…I don’t know if I can get there in less than a lifetime…but I’m trying.
So for today, I am trying to open my mind a little more than I did yesterday. For this moment, I am trying to take a deep breath before reacting. But I can’t promise that I can do it every day. All I can do is try.