Fear and Divisiveness

“Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open.  You’re able to benefit from the unique viewpoints of others, without being crippled by your own judgment.” Ralph Marston

I had a conversation with a friend the other day that disturbed me.  I found myself tensing up as we talked.  I felt some anxiety in my stomach and breath.  I had to intentionally breathe through the anxiety so as not to react in an unkind way with my own thoughts of being right.

I am blessed to have people in my life from all sorts of backgrounds and beliefs: conservative, liberal, straight, gay, Christian, Hindu, Atheist, rich, poor, and so forth.  I’m blessed because such diversity enriches and deepens my life. Truly.

I’ve been in some of those camps at one time or another and I’ve been quite staunch.  I was a staunch fundamentalist Christian and conservative for decades. After my break-down break-through, I became a staunch liberal and environmentalist. I learned valuable life lessons in each of those camps that have served me well and I learned things that were unhelpful and even harmful. In each of those camps, it was us versus them. My way or the highway whether or not that was explicitly stated.

I’m not so staunch anymore. It’s not that I can’t be or don’t feel the pull to be, rather it’s that I understand how staunchness can shut us down and disconnect us from those who are unlike us. I don’t want that. It doesn’t feel good to me. It’s not effective as we can see so clearly in our current political climate. The divisiveness is dangerous and toxic.

Back to my friend. She had been listening to a talk show host and was on a rant about “those Muslims”.  This friend is someone whom I respect and appreciate. She has a huge and generous heart.  She is kind and enjoys helping those in need.  As I listened to her rant, I could hear her anger. That much was apparent, but as I listened more deeply, I could also hear her fear. She was afraid.

How many times have you seen a conservative friend go up against a liberal friend, or liberal against conservative, on Facebook or in other casual conversation?  How many times have you heard it on the television or radio. It ain’t pretty. When our minds close around an issue, it becomes impossible to hear one another or even, it seems, to be kind.

I think back to the tightness in my stomach when my friend was talking. I realize that the tightness was anger and beneath that was fear. I wanted to react—lash out even. I realized that my fear was about people separating themselves from each other based on culture, religion, sexuality, or anything else.  I wanted desperately for my friend to see that we are all connected. I wanted her to see this because I’m afraid of what the separateness is doing to us and to the world at large. However, from a place of anger and fear, I contract and disconnect, which prevents real dialogue, openness, and love and assures the very disconnection that I fear. See how that works?

When I hear the judgmental, superior, rigid, and arrogant voices ranting about this and that on Facebook, Fox News, or CNN, I first must recognize that voice within me if, in fact, I am truly interested in love and connection. It’s easy to recognize. It’s unpleasant and necessary. This voice resides in me every bit as strongly as it does in anyone else. It overtakes me at times, too. I must recognize the voice for what it is: thoughts I’ve brought to life by attaching to them, by feeding them, by taking them so very seriously and personally.

Secondly, I must listen more deeply to what’s beneath the anger, superiority, or arrogance. When I listen for what’s beneath it and when I can recognize that the person is simply believing her or his own thoughts, just as I do all too often, then I can tap into my compassion and empathy. If I believed what they believed, I’d be saying and doing exactly what they are saying and doing. This understanding truly helps me tap into my compassion and empathy. This, then, can enable connection rather than disconnection. Most people long to connect. When we drop the certainty, rigidity, and judgment, connection becomes possible again.  

My friend and others who are ranting and raving are often doing so out of fear. Fear that the “Muslim” will kill everyone. Fear that the “religious right” will take away all our freedoms. Fear that the “liberals” will ruin the country. Fear that the “homosexuals” will destroy the institution of marriage. Fear that there won’t be enough money. The list is surprisingly long. Fear is a physiological response to danger. It is a bodily function meant to alert, not meant to become a state of mind. When it becomes a state of mind then all hell breaks loose.

Fear as a state of mind abounds in this culture.

Fear oppresses.
Fear restricts.
Fear separates.

We suffer.

How do we step out of the state of fear and dangerous divisiveness?  How do we hear one another, despite our differences?  How do we treat one another with respect, compassion, and kindness no matter our religion, political leaning, culture, sexuality, financial standing, race, etc.?  How do we come to understand that we are all connected? 

  1. We could recognize the fear within ourselves. It starts from within. We could recognize our own arrogance, rigidity, and judgment. We could take responsibility for it and calm ourselves down in the moment by getting grounded. From this place of ground, we will have a better chance of seeing the other’s perspective.
  2. We could remind ourselves that we are all living in our own reality. If I believed as you believe, I’d be seeing, saying, and doing the same thing you see, say, and do. This understanding alone can give us a tremendous amount of compassion and a better understanding of the other’s perspective.
  3. We could look for common ground. In most cases, we have far more that we do agree on than we don’t. If we worked from that place of agreement, we’d weaken polarization and strengthen connection.
  4. We could choose love and connection over being right. Love covers a multitude of wrongs and feels so much better.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
— Rumi

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