Overcoming Polarization

Overcoming Polarization

Discussion date: Thu, Mar 04, 2021 at our weekly Thursday evening practice
March 4, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Silver Spring, Maryland, community online on Thursday evening
March 5, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all online on Friday evening

Dear Still Water Friends,

Recently, because of the divisiveness of our times, I have been reflecting on how I can respond with mindfulness and compassion to those who hold different perspectives than my own. I have thought about how to draw upon the spiritual values of our Buddhist tradition – recognizing suffering, embracing unpleasant emotions, seeing nondiscrimination, practicing loving kindness and compassion. Thich Nhat Hanh has offered numerous teachings, stories and practices that guide me in being more skillful with thoughts, words and actions.

To what extent could I speak to someone whom I knew to hold a different political perspective? My cousin in Huntsville, Alabama, came to mind. A former Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army and longtime conservative, he has held strong views about topics related to the armed forces and our American role in national defense. In the past, we have disagreed about the military’s role, the government’s responsibility, and other matters. But we have stayed clear of politics during the previous administration. I assumed he was a dyed-in-the-wool red Republican much as I am a true-blue liberal Democrat. In thinking about bridging the divide of our political views and opinions, I wondered if I could reach across the polarization that separated us. This would be a test case. Could I speak directly to my cousin or, more importantly, could I listen deeply to his perspective and really hear what his views and feelings are?

Before I approached the task, I was reminded of Thay’s inquiry, “Am I sure?” What did I really know about my cousin’s views? Was it true that he was a Trump supporter? Was he so deeply attached to his viewpoints that he might not even want to talk?

Another thing I needed to think about was the love and care we share. Over the years he has been a brother to me, always willing to help me when needed, give support and advice freely without regard for his time and efforts. We regularly talk on the phone and he is always reaching out to check in on me, even though I am thousands of miles away. But recently I have been more reluctant and less willing to reach out to him. I had to think about what I was about to say, what I hoped would result from this difficult conversation, and what my true motivations were. I also needed to take a few deep breaths to get over the fear and trepidation I was feeling about doing this. Could I manage to navigate or bridge the divide? What might I learn from this? How invested was I in my own opinions and perspectives?

Finally, I needed to be willing to make the phone call, and be courageous especially with a loved one. Taking a deep breath, I emailed my cousin to set up a time to talk. He was quick to reply, arranging for us to phone the next day.

What I found was that the preliminary thinking that I did in preparation helped make the call go smoothly. I was open to listening and putting aside my assumptions. Also, I instinctively employed the Beginning Anew practice especially the first part (“What I appreciate about you…”) and the final part (“Can you help me understand?”). We talked for a long time and eventually did get around to speaking about politics. I learned he actually wasn’t the Trump supporter that I assumed. My cousin had also been reluctant to speak about his political views in social media forums as well as in person so I thought he felt encouraged that I was actually interested in his political opinion. We will likely continue talking about this in the future.

This Thursday and Friday evenings I will share my experience of overcoming polarization and  the Beginning Anew practice. Please join me in the dharma sharing.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are the spiritual values that support you in communicating with others?
  • How do your values help you work through differences?
  • Have there been times in your life when you have been able to reduce polarization, or tried and failed?

A short explanation of Beginning Anew is below.

Smiling and breathing,

Ernestine Enomoto
True Mindfulness of Peace

Beginning Anew
From: Plum Village website- Extended practices

To begin anew is to look deeply and honestly at ourselves, our past actions, speech and thoughts and to create a fresh beginning within ourselves and in our relationships with others. At the practice center we practice Beginning Anew as a community every two weeks and individually as often as we like.

We practice Beginning Anew to clear our mind and keep our practice fresh. When a difficulty arises in our relationships with fellow practitioners and one of us feels resentment or hurt, we know it is time to Begin Anew. The following is a description of the four-part process of Beginning Anew as used in a formal setting. One person speaks at a time and is not interrupted during his or her turn. The other practitioners practice deep listening and following their breath.

Flower Watering
This is a chance to share our appreciation for the other person. We may mention specific instances that the other person said or did something that we had admired. This is an opportunity to shine light on the other’s strengths and contributions to the sangha and to encourage the growth of his or her positive qualities.

Sharing regrets
We may mention any unskillfulness in our actions, speech or thoughts that we have not yet had an opportunity to apologize for.

Expressing a hurt
We may share how we felt hurt by an interaction with another practitioner, due to his or her actions, speech or thoughts. (To express a hurt we should first water the other person’s flower by sharing two positive qualities that we have truly observed in him or her. Expressing a hurt is often performed one on one with another practitioner rather than in the group setting. You may ask for a third party that you both trust and respect to be present, if desired.)

Sharing a long-term difficulty & asking for support
At times we each have difficulties and pain arise from our past that surface in the present. When we share an issue that we are dealing with we can let the people around us understand us better and offer the support that we really need.

The practice of Beginning Anew helps us develop our kind speech and compassionate listening. Begin Anew is a practice of recognition and appreciation of the positive elements within our Sangha. For instance, we may notice that our roommate is generous in sharing her insights, and another friend is caring towards plants.

Recognizing others positive traits allows us to see our own good qualities as well. Along with these good traits, we each have areas of weakness, such as talking out of our anger or being caught in our misperceptions. When we practice “flower watering” we support the development of good qualities in each other and at the same time we help to weaken the difficulties in the other person. As in a garden, when we “water the flowers” of loving kindness and compassion in each other, we also take energy away from the weeds of anger, jealousy and misperception.

We can practice Beginning Anew everyday by expressing our appreciation for our fellow practitioners and apologizing right away when we do or say something that hurts them. We can politely let others know when we have been hurt as well. The health and happiness of the whole community depends on the harmony, peace and joy that exists between every member in the Sangha.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Mar 04, 2021


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