“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By love alone is hatred appeased” – Buddha
We live in deeply troubled times. America seems to be torn apart by a division that has the “Right” and the “Left” of our political spectrum pulled so far apart that they don’t even seem in hailing distance of each other; it’s as if the American continent is two tectonic plates moving in opposite directions, a disastrous quake a growing certainty. The notion of “one nation, indivisible” seems more threatened than any time since the Civil War and there is so much mistrust, anger, anxiety and conflict that the pathway to reconciliation and healing seems overgrown with the weeds of mistrust and alienation. If America were a family, it would seem on the verge of a divorce, the best course for the bitter and angry couple being to go their separate ways so that each can have some peace, and to chart their lives according to their needs and desires without conflict.
Well, in very important ways, America is a family, and, as with a family that is not just the battling couple but also children and interlocking responsibilities and relationships, there comes a moment when it is important to step back and realize the cost of a divorce carries too high a consequence, and it is then time to examine what is needed to save the family. Americans of differing cultural and political orientations, just as with an embattled couple, seem lost focusing on differences and resentments, forgetting all that is held and valued in common, but America cannot split apart, nor can one faction gain dominance to the exclusion of others. We have to find a way to readdress who we are and how interdependent with each other we are, or we will fall even deeper into national crisis. In addressing this growing rift, Buddhist philosophy may have some helpful contribution.
If we were to distill Buddhist philosophy to its essence it would be about being “awake,” the word that is the most common translation of the root Sanskrit word “budh.” And if we examine what this “awake” refers to, it is about having an expanded view of the realities of life, among them being the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things and situations, and that the idea there can be any lasting happiness derived from pursuing fulfillment separate from these interconnections will inevitably lead to more suffering. As Americans what we have in common has to become far more important to us than our differences, for we are one society, and any group that wishes for lasting security and prosperity must see to the lasting prosperity and security of all. Our politics needs to wake up to this reality if the bonds of this family are not to unravel even further.
At the most basic level we must learn to have compassion for each other. We must see that we have in common not only a national identity, history and future, but also that we are all human beings who want to be happy and not suffer, and that what are seen as differences among people are always only the result of factors of circumstances. This includes such factors as race, mental and physical capacities or limitations, gender and sexual orientation, as well as all the cultural, economic, social and psychological factors that seem to set people apart from each other. None of this, however, negates that underneath all these circumstantial factors we are all human-beings that have pretty much the same desires and fears. The old saying, “There but for the grace of God go I” sums up well the Buddhist insight into the compassion that seems to be in short supply in our country. This insight can cut through the perception of our differences to refocus us, and perhaps generate some true identification and feeling of caring for each other as brothers and sisters in this human and American journey.
Unfortunately, rather than compassionate understanding and strengthening our common bonds, we seem much too much focused on only caring about ourselves and those with whom we identify – what Buddhism sees as being small-minded, egoistic and inevitably leading to conflict and the worsening of problems. It is this view from separateness that blinds us to the truth of our ultimate interconnectedness, and so Buddhism appropriately calls this egoistic perspective delusional; making us very vulnerable to delusional thinking and the creation of false problems and solutions. Our politics seems dominated by straw-dog issues meant only to stir up emotions and divert attention from the real challenges that face us such as climate change, racial, economic, and regional divisions, and a political and economic system so corrupted by imbalanced influence and access by the powerful and wealthy that our economy is increasingly rigged to the detriment of the common people and is causing erosion of our democratic institutions and principles.
Much like with a family that has gotten lost in focusing on differences and believing that happiness can be found in the pursuit of separate agendas and desires while ignoring or rejecting the needs and desires of others, the American family has become lost in the delusion that our differences are more significant than what we share in common. Like a family that has a parent focused on their selfish interest over the best balance of facilitating the needs and interests of all family members, America has too many in leadership that act as if the pursuit of their interest and the interests of their particular group of allies and supporters is more important than working to find and implement policies that address the needs of the total community of the American family. This creates seemingly endless incidents of conflict and escalating mistrust that threatens to tear the family apart. We need to wake up. It must be recognized that no individual or identity group’s needs and wants are more important than those of all the members of this national family.
With that said, perhaps some basic principles of what is needed to heal a personal family in crisis may be very applicable to this present crisis of our national family. It must be recognized that the family can only be saved if all members are completely committed to restoring the family to healthy functioning, and that each member or group within the family must be willing to take absolute responsibility for doing whatever they can to heal the family. In this spirit, each member of the family must be allowed to voice their needs and to experience being heard, and all family members must agree to do what they can to facilitate the fulfillment of those needs. The focus must shift from resentments over past conflicts and transgressions to acknowledgement and gratitude for what each member or group brings and can contribute to the health and happiness of the family.
Healthy communication must be established and supported where everyone is listened to with respect and genuine interest, and the benefits of American family membership must be equally available to everyone while the burden of its challenges are shared. Finally, each individual and group must realize that while a great diversity of identities gives richness to our national life, finding and valuing a deeper collective identity in the family of the nation and humanity is the only path to well-being for everyone. We must pledge to bring the very best of who we are to the accomplishment of a healthy national and human family and we must all take responsibility to care for each other and the nation.
To facilitate this healing, we must seek out and support the political leaders and candidates who best understand and will bring these healing principles into guiding our American society while we call to account and cease supporting and following those who practice the politics and practices of division, special interest and the delusional thinking that is pulling us apart. There must be a resounding rejection of the politics of scapegoating, insult and lie, of personal and group power-seeking that pits us against each other using divisive rhetoric and concocted emotional issues, that undermines and weakens our democratic and security institutions. We must redirect our energies to the truly critical issues we face like the environment, universal affordable healthcare, education and housing, and training our workforce for 21st Century jobs while we build that green and sustainable economy and strengthen political and economic democracy.
Most of all, we must, as individuals, bring compassionate understanding, respect, and care into our personal interactions with those we have disagreed with in the past. We have to find our way to loving each other for what we share and need in common, realizing that our fixation with mistrusting and even hating each other over our differences is what is pushing us to the brink of failing as a nation. To heal this nation we must begin practicing an awakened politics as individuals and as communities together, building a future that is dedicated to the common cause of harmonious flowering as one people celebrating its rich diversity. Only genuine love for the ideals of America and for the community of Americans, all Americans, can heal this nation. More hatred and division can only bring suffering and failure. It is surely time to wake up to this fact.