Injustice, destruction of our environment, betrayal of constituents, flat out lies--- these evoke outrage to those who have woken up. Can we challenge the wrongs without hurting ourselves in the process?
I just read the book, Buddha's Brain, and yesterday, interviewed its co-author, Rick Hanson. Go towww.futurehealth.org/podcaststo access the podcast of the interview.
The book really inspired me to think about compassion and a bit of Buddhist advice: "Say only what is well-intended, true, beneficial, timely,expressed without harshness or malice, and-- ideally-- what is wanted."
That said, I face a real struggle, considering my reflex reactions to people like Pat Buchanan, Rand Paul, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and many of the talking heads on Fox News. l'm going to try to move towards this kinder, gentler way of being, at least attempting to be less harsh.
Hanson is a practical man. He recites the Native American story of "the tribal elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy , and so respected. She answered: 'In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day. " I say he's practical because he points out that the functions of both wolves have evolved as part of our nervous systems because we need both to survive.
Hanson addresses our need and the human capacity for empathy as a way to experience compassion and understanding, citing a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow quotation I've long valued, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each [person's] life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm any hostility." And just this morning, a press release on a positive psychology listserve I've subscribed to for ten years reports that students since 2000 have manifested a drop in empathy of 40%.
Can I balance the two wolves in a strong, compassionate, yet progressively activist way that continues to challenge the wrongs we face from the right and from congresspeople of all flavors?
Can I live up to my resolution consistently? Probably not. I can't even hold back from cursing, though I've set intentions not to. But I'm going to try, as long as it doesn't hold me back from speaking truth to power and calling out people when they deserve to be called out.
I think we face some horrendous criminal activity. Criminals need to be named and called out and accused. But it's important to be careful not to get too caught up in the outrage. It affects who we are and who we become. As I say in my article today, Obama has the opposite problem-- not enough passion and too much equanimity. Well, we all need to find balance, as situations call for it. Buddha's Brain observes that "doing the right thing draws on both head and heart." Hanson characterizes the right prefrontal cortex as the head part and the limbic system, sometimes referred to as the lower, reptilian part of the brain, as the heart part. We need to manage both of them.
Is it possible to be tough, hard-hitting, strong and committed to challenging the right and the dark forces we face without getting nasty, angry and mean? Just writing the previous sentence, I resisted using the word "fight."
This is an experiment. My commitment to take on the forces and faces that are hurtling humanity and our planet in the wrong direction is steadfast. But is it necessary to become as nasty as they are? Can we be strong progressives without being mean, angry and ugly, like the worst on the right? I think so. I think we can be more like Ghandi than Beck Coulter, Limbaugh and Savage. I don't think it's possible to observe and know about what's being perpetrated without FEELING anger and outrage. But do we have to express it? Can we proceed with action and intention in ways that make a difference without being infected by the bad guys' energy? That's a challenge worth taking on.