I see politics as a black cauldron where the brightness of our collective hopes and dreams gets churned with the darkness of fear and paranoia from our collective shadow, resulting in an acrid stew of opinion, allegiance, reactivity, and drama.
So it was with some consternation that Sharon and I recently attended two political meetings sponsored by an organization called "Better Angels." Each meeting had a trained moderator and an equal number of "left"-leaning and "right" -leaning participants. The purpose was to see if the group could create an atmosphere of listening and respectful discourse to deepen understanding and move toward a "common ground."'
I was curious about how this process might relate to the principles of mutuality that we have been using in our Trillium work.
We all knew the purpose of the meetings in advance, so those who participated were self-selected. People chose to come, implying an openness to engage and not fight.
After ground rules regarding listening and holding reactivity were given, each political party group met separately to brainstorm the ways in which their identity was demonized and stereotyped by the rhetoric of the other. Characterizations such as "bleeding-heart liberals," "godless socialists," "immoral unpatriotic snobs," and "tree-huggers" described the left, and "rich, greedy, hypocritical, racist, fascist, homophobic bible-thumpers" the right. We were then asked to investigate whether there was a kernel of truth in those stereotypes.
Each group found some areas within stereotypes that, while distorted, amplified, and exaggerated, rang true to some degree. These admissions created the space to engage and see how each characterization was taken from the most radicalized aspect of each party, and used by media to deepen separation.
At our next meeting, after a discussion on how to reflect back what we thought we had heard, we graduated to discussions with those of different political leanings. We then met together to compare notes. Some were surprised that they were listened to; it was a new and rewarding experience. Others felt the interchange was productive in building trust and openness. Still others found a common respect, if not agreement. Everybody was relieved that triggers weren't activated, and felt more understanding for the reality of the other. Many were eager to continue the exploration.
Mutuality, born of an openness to engage, listen, reflect, withhold judgment, and clarify, along with self-knowledge and feeling for timing, is fundamental toward a comprehensive meeting that can move us from head to heart and heart to head: a meeting with the potential to acknowledge different views, yet hold each viewer with respect.
This kind of relating needs to be learned, experienced, and practiced. It goes against a lifetime of doing just the opposite, and is foreign to the polarizing nature of our digital communication technologies.
In order to remain authentic to the dictates of both mind and heart, to our paradoxical identities and responsibilities, mutuality is necessary. This authenticity can engender a deeper, richer embodiment of spirit into matter, emblematic of maturing whole being realization.
Gilbert - Editor