Decide in Advance

be the lighthouse

NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

It’s the first Sunday of November of an election year.  The political ads are ramping up.  Tension rises; the agitation is inescapable.  Some media would have you believe that one outcome or another is all but inevitable, the world will positively end if one side or the other wins.  I admit, I have felt my share of darkness and despondence at the words and actions of some (many), not just the last two years, but for a long while now.  It’s hard not to feel sucked into an inexorable downward spiral of animosity and rage.

Thankfully, I still hear voices of uplift, words that speak to the optimist and idealist in me.  Let me share some of those voices and words with you here.

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My friend Donna Cameron, an expert on kindness, reminds us that we have a choice, not just on election day, but every day before and after, about how we conduct ourselves with one another:

We have to ask ourselves now, before we know the outcome of the election: Do we want a united country? Are we still capable of coming together to productively and positively address the complex issues that have divided us?

Civility and compassion are not weak. It takes strength to accept loss and move forward with resolve rather than bitterness. It takes strength not strike back when our buttons are pushed or our values are derided. It takes strength to recognize the pain someone else may be feeling and not belittle those feelings or dismiss their right to grieve.

Don’t look to the politicians or pundits to lose—or win—with grace. They’re going to be gloating in victory and blaming in defeat. It’s up to us to model what constructive behavior looks like and to demand it of our elected officials.

But what can we actually do?  How will we know when to act, and what to do in any given circumstance?  Isn’t it just too abstract to say, “practice empathy,” or “be compassionate?”  Maybe.  But if these are values for us, then we can translate them into actions and practice.  Empathy manifests as active listening, holding one’s tongue while hearing someone else’s story, resisting the urge to interrupt and tell our own story.  It means relating to their feelings and expressing understanding and solidarity.  “That sucks, I know that feeling, Me, Too.”  Empathic listening, validating words, and simply sitting with and holding space are good practices to start with.

The Southern Poverty Law Center offers 10 concrete steps to fight hate.  Examples include:

Repair acts of hate-fueled vandalism, as a neighborhood or a community.

Use whatever skills and means you have. Offer your print shop to make fliers. Share your musical talents at a rally. Give your employees the afternoon off to attend.

Report every incident.  Pressure your representatives.

Finally, look for role models.  If you have not read Ari Mahler’s personal account of caring for Robert Bowers in the ER, please click on the link now.  He is ‘the Jewish nurse.’  What would you have done in his place, called to the trauma bay to care for the man who may have just killed members of your family for their religion?

I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?

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Sometimes I wonder if my posts are redundant.  I have decided to think of them as iterative.  Looking back, I found a couple of posts relevant to today, written in similar periods/mindsets of portent, reflection, and seeking.  Right before January 20, 2017, I shared words I had written to friends.

They represent my intentions for managing myself in the coming years, of reinforcing my core values and focusing on my highest aspirations.  As Simon Sinek posted once:  ‘Fight against something, we focus on what we hate.  Fight for something, we focus on what we love.’

Months later I connected with conservative friends in an attempt at mutual understanding. It was not as comforting as I had hoped; I did not really feel heard or understood.  And I learned a lot about managing expectations.

I admit that I felt a little defensive at times, as if anything I said about the origins of my distress would be met with, “You’re overreacting,” and “You’re worried about nothing, please…”  We later agreed that it is never helpful to invalidate someone’s emotional response to a stressor, regardless of whether or not we can relate.

Last week I had a new opportunity to hear a colleague’s conservative point of view on gender.  With practice, I have become so much more comfortable sitting back, listening for understanding, quieting my inner debater.  My urge to counter and convince did not escalate.  I heard earnestness, confusion, some fear, and mostly a desire to understand and integrate, to find balance and peace.  I was not asked for my opinion, and this time I was okay with it.  I hope we can engage again and again in the future.

Today, two days before we all head to the polls (if we have not already—please please vote), we can decide what kind of neighbor, colleague, friend, parent, child, coach, teammate, employee, boss, coworker, and American we want to be.

What if we choose to be the kindest, most empathetic and compassionate ones we have ever known?