Thursday, January 13, 2011

A New Hope

No, the title is not another shameless Star Wars reference - it is a shameless reference to President Barak Obama and the hope that he helped inspire from the tragedy that rocked Tucson (my adopted home).

He said, “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.” He implored us to tune into and find our true empathy.

I have never brought politics into this blog, nor do I hope to ever do it, but yesterday, before the speech, as I was walking along the streets of San Francisco, I was thinking how best to write about all that has happened in the media, in our lives, in politics, since Saturday, without being political. Well, the President answered that question, and it goes right back to where I was in the blog before Saturday - The Downward Spiral of Email.

This downward email spiral is the non-political version of the vitriol we have experienced these past few days. It can only occur when we allow ourselves to believe that the person to whom we are writing the email is divided from us, in whatever way. In order to speak ill of another, we must see him as “the other.” This is becoming all too easy, especially when we have the screen between us and them.

So, what can we do to counteract this? We can take the President’s advice - empathy. According to the Free Online Dictionary (hey, don’t hate, it was the most comprehensive definition in my Google results), empathy is “Identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives.” For a brief moment, if we place ourselves into someone else’s situation and ask about their motivation, but more importantly, their circumstances.

We have a few options when we receive those emails, or see the civil discourse getting out of hand around us. We can respond in kind, and carry the conversation down that path. We can ignore it and just respond with “facts,” bottling up the tension, hurt, and anger until the next email sends us overboard. We can also respond to the person and ask about the circumstances.

If we start from the point of view that President Obama provides - that we are all full of decency - it becomes easier to respond to these situations with more openness. A simple, “I did not realize that I offended you with my words, here is what I meant,” or “Did you mean for me to interpret this email in X manner, you are usually not like that” can immediately shift the conversation.

There is enough non-civil discourse in this world. There is enough caustic speech. Yoga gives us the tools to stop and reflect, to see that how we affect others greatly influences how they affect us and how we interact with ourselves. Yoga teaches us to respond and not react. If every person made the choice to treat others with love and compassion and empathy, we would not only begin to understand each other, we would begin to change the downward spiral into an upward one. How would your day look different if instead of sending a nasty response, or thinking a nasty thought, you reached out and tried to bridge the divide?

Tucson, Arizona, and the entire country have come together in the wake of this disaster, but let us not only find this community when disaster strikes. Building this everyday, in every moment, is how we change the world. Let us choose to treat one another with the love and compassion that creates community everyday.

Namaste and Blessings.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

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