19 Oct 2012

Us vs. Them

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MLK and his fellow protestors

Dr. King and other Civil Rights activists fought to be seen as equals, not others

My parents tell a story about me from when I was about four years old. I had seen something on tv about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. I asked my parents what that man, Mr. King, and his followers were fighting for. They tried to explain to me the world of segregation and institutionalized racism. For the life of me, my pre-school brain couldn’t grasp why these people weren’t treated the same as everyone else. They finally said that some people don’t like other people because of the color of their skin.

From my car seat in the back of our navy blue Buick, beneath a head of copper-colored curls and a hair bow the size of a small bird, I sputtered, “But… but that’s… that’s so wrong!”

I vaguely remember seeing the world this way. That age of innocence before the realization dawns that—according to some, at least—all people are not, in fact, created equal. That some people are different, some are even “less than.” That there is an “us,” who are good, and a “them” who are not.

Child psychologists have theories and models for exactly when and how we start to perceive differences between people. But they all agree that it is learned behavior. Left to our own devices, it wouldn’t occur to us to discriminate. But somewhere along the way, prior to our first day of kindergarten, we learn who is an us and who is a them.

My yoga and meditation practices have helped me shift back to seeing the world from the “we are all one” perspective of my toddler years. Yoga teaches us that we are all interconnected and interdependent, coming from the same energy and relying on one another to grow and evolve. The meaning of Namaste, “the divine light in me recognizes and honors the divine light in you,” is at the heart of the practice. But how easy is it to forget that teaching after we leave the mat? How often after class do you get in your car and call the next person who cuts you off a jackass or worse? Our us versus them teachings run deep.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama

The current presidential race has been polarizing and contentious

The current presidential race is the most salient example of the us versus them mentality. Political races are always oppositional, even polarizing, but it seems like every cycle gets more vicious and the attacks more personal. And the politicians aren’t the only ones to blame. My Facebook feed (and probably yours, too) is full of angry, accusational  rhetoric from both sides. Both sides see their guy as the savior and the other guy as the devil, intent on destroying the country. We’re good; you’re bad.

What would happen if we applied the concept of Namaste to our political conversations? What if we quit trying to convince each other and started to listen? What if we, as radical as it might sound, started to look at people on both sides of the issues as not just humans, but divine lights worthy of being honored?

I have some guesses about what might happen. We might start talking in terms of what’s best for the greater good, not just the people in our “category.” We might work toward consensus, with both sides sacrificing a little, rather than a power struggle between opponents. And, shockingly, we might be able to take our egos out of the equation and instead focus on how what’s good for one will be good for all of us, since we’re all inextricably interconnected.

My friends at The Envision Project are doing some amazing work around this contentious election. On Saturday, October 20th, at 5:30pm they’ll be meeting for a group meditation at Railroad Park. The focus of the meditation will be on mindful voting. They won’t be endorsing or supporting one side or the other. Instead, the intention will be on a country full of mindful, heartfelt voters making choices for the good of all. It’s a great way to put some positive intention toward a challenging situation.

We were all born with the ability to see everyone as equal, or even as a divine light. These are tough times full of a lot of division, but with a little bit of work and a lot of intention, it is possible to come back to our original state of Namaste.

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