Why Make It Worse?
It can have a big impact when we simply remember to work with our mind in the midst of everyday challenges such as somebody disagreeing with our political view. We can remember to work with our anger, fear, jealousy, and the rest. Just working with those emotions, engaging our wisdom to transform and open our awareness in difficult moments––that itself is the practice of loving kindness. That minimal shift can make all the difference.
Have you ever noticed how your mind gets so cloudy and foggy just from seeing or hearing one message? Maybe you’re watching or listening to the news and all of a sudden you no longer see the person who is speaking––you only see the words they said. Our mind can get totally blocked by a single word. It doesn’t even have to be a long word, just a short word. Four letters, appearing in myriad forms. You can write it down. You can say it. You can email it. You can text it. You can emojinize it. You can dance to it. In whatever form it may appear to you, that form can totally block you from seeing the real human being behind it.
The word that blocks you doesn’t even have to be a very dramatic appearance. It doesn’t have to be a four-letter word, it can be a five-letter word. The four-letter word starts with F. The five-letter word starts with T and ends with P. Those five letters totally blind you and don’t see the person behind those 5 letters who is a human being––someone who may be a mother, father, or son just like you. That person may be a grandfather or grandmother going through so many of the same human sufferings and challenges you’re going through.
We don’t have to agree with each other ideologically, religiously, or politically. We don’t have to be lovey-dovey with each other, but we can connect with each other at the basic level of being. Even if you cannot love or care for someone or be kind to them directly, you can still remember that both of you are human beings living in this world. We can always simply connect on that level and leave it there. We can leave it with a good thought, a kind aspiration for that person to succeed in becoming kind and compassionate to others. You can think, “May this person have a good mind, a better thought, that can help people instead of harm them.” That can actually help the world instead of sending hatred to that person which only creates more hatred in his heart. If someone gets angry enough, he can blow up your whole world.
So it’s easy to see how the practice of loving kindness naturally involves working with our anger and other strong emotions. If we feel outraged when someone makes a political statement we strongly disagree with, then we have to remember kindness at those times especially. Such a person may need even more of your positive prayers and thoughts to help them succeed. They may need even more of your kindness if they are to become a better person, if they are to succeed in developing a heart of loving kindness toward others.
How to turn it around, with kindness
People already have so much anger, jealousy, and pain in their lives. They definitely don’t need us to increase their difficulty by throwing our hatred and neurosis at them. This is important for us to consider, at least. Even when we strongly disagree with someone’s views and actions, we can practice kindness. We can do this simply by recognizing the human-to-human relationship we have with every other person in the world, including this person we’re disagreeing with right now in this moment. When we approach disagreement like this, we begin to have a sense of caring for the world and a sense of kindness toward ourselves. As we continue to remember and recognize our basic human connection with others, we also cultivate a sense of kindness toward people whose political views and actions we strongly disagree with.
We can begin by looking at this in terms of the microcosm: our small, personal day-to-day world. When somebody is angry, if you send more angry energy toward them––angry words and angry thoughts–– then you fuel that anger, right? And then what happens? That person actually blows up. Before you know it, people are breaking things and shouting at each other. Everybody in your environment becomes negative. On the global stage, it happens in exactly the same way. If someone is already angry, you don’t want to send more angry energy into that situation. It’s definitely not going to help and it could end up causing a lot of harm. So what can we do instead?
It’s important to shift our focus from our disagreement, to an awareness of our basic human connection with other people.
We can look at our own lives to see how our loving kindness manifests on a very practical level. Kindness then becomes a day-to-day experience that shows up our ordinary expressions of care and concern, as we move through our day with a sense of mindfulness and awareness. You can grow this kind awareness within yourself and toward all those around you.
Sometimes we feel like the world is in so much turmoil, it’s like a hurricane. In the face of so much disturbance we may ask, “What can I really do? I’m only one person.” What we can do is be calm. Be calm, that’s all. We can firmly decide not to add more turmoil to what is already there. We can resolve not to magnify the existing disturbance in the world. Instead, we can make the choice to be calm and look for a solution. Just staying calm can be a great kindness in itself.
How to Not Make Things Worse: A Meditation
We may not be able to change someone else’s views, but we can definitely change ourselves and our habitual negative reactions to hearing those views. Here’s something you can try the next time you hear something you don’t agree with.
1. Be calm. Breathe. Even if this is all you can do to begin with, it’s a good beginning.
2. Don’t generate negative thoughts or, if you have negative thoughts or labels about whoever is speaking, don’t follow them.
3. Remember that, just like you yourself, this person is a human being living a human life. If it’s hard to feel a sense of kinship with them, you can simply acknowledge that person is human too, and leave it there. We all want to be happy and avoid suffering, so we have that in common at least!
4. Generate a positive thought of gratitude for some aspect of that person or the situation you disagree about. For example, some people may be rushing to help their neighbors in a time of crisis, and you can take a moment to appreciate that fact. Or you can make a positive aspiration for yourself as well as the person you disagree with: ‘May we both grow in our ability to be calm and express loving kindness.”
Political disagreements and differences present many challenges, but they also give us excellent opportunities to transform our habitual patterns of negative thinking. When we transform negativity in our own minds, we help to stop the spread of anger and hatred in our world. If we want to go a little further, we can make an effort to find something positive in the situation at hand. We can try to find basic common ground with those we disagree with, even if only to acknowledge our common humanity and then move on.
If we work with our mind in this way, we will transform our view of ourselves, of others, and of our world. Then, even when we disagree strongly with others, instead of piling on more turmoil by heating up the argument, we will be able to contribute a sense of positivity to the situation. That intention, that practice in itself, is one of the kindest things we can do.
The teachings that appear in this article were given by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche at a retreat in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2017.
Read more How Our Differences Make Us Stronger