Sacred America, Sacred World
Evolving Our Consciousness
Chapter 5: Radicals and Republicans
(continued & concluded)
If denied, the more liberal orientation fails to free us from what is outdated, lopsided, and closed-minded in what we’ve inherited. Overindulged, it keeps us from maturing into someone who can take responsibility for families, businesses, and communities.
So, one aspect of forging a sacred paradigm for America 7.0 is to respect the complementary balance between liberal and conservative worldviews. This respect can even be taken to another level, in which we consciously train with someone who is our opposite and learn to harness the power of that person’s values and perspective on life. Such a stance ultimately reflects the view that we are all allies to each other on this planet and that we each have been endowed with characteristics that allow us to serve our function. To the extent that we accept our own values and respect the values of those with whom we differ, we can begin to work as a more cohesive and unified team on the largest challenges of our day.
I leaned heavily toward the experimental and liberal side of the equation in my twenties, even creating my first book with the title Radical Spirit. Its black and red cover spoke to this youthful rebellion against the old systems and structures. Many of its articles focused on the pioneering of experimental new spiritual pathways, some of which were quite edgy.
As I grew into my thirties, however, I began to experience the negative effects of being undisciplined: I burned some bridges with reckless truth telling and almost went broke on my first startup. At times, I destabilized my partnership with my eventual wife Devaa rather than supporting it to be secure and solid. It took these experiences to begin to see the wisdom of more conservative elders and the importance of balance and political cross-training. Based on a challenge from Devaa’s father, who was much more conservative politically, I trained for two years in mixed martial arts to balance out the New Age flow boy in me with what he called “Stevie,” more of a tough fighter. I took a mainstream job at an Internet company to learn the disciplines of business. I got myself on more sound footing fiscally. And I made a more rigorous commitment to my relationship with Devaa, eventually leading to a marriage that is the most cherished part of my life now.
As a CEO of a company now, I can savor the wild-eyed radical in me who loves to play at the experimental edge while also embracing the more measured, disciplined business leader that needs to be more conservative in certain decisions. I need both poles to do what I do effectively, and the same is true of most positions of real responsibility and leadership in our society, especially politics. To govern well and justly requires a level of respect for the status quo that youth tend not to have. It requires patience with the pace of change and an appreciation of incremental progress. This is not satisfying to those at the liberal extreme (and indeed it was not satisfying to me for many years). However, it is the result of balance, integrity, and maturity. I still count myself as a strong progressive, but one who now understands the wisdom held in conservative values; and I am more patient with the pace of our social evolution. I eventually released “radical” as my identity, which opened the way to seeing the world in a more sacred and inclusive way.
The simple truth is that life mastery requires versatility since different situations require different things. If we are only wildly creative, it’s tough to plan for long-term organizational growth. And if we are only ultraconservative, we may miss the next innovation and creative movement that upends a market (or a world). Keeping a foot in both worlds lets us play outside the box while also understanding and respecting the rules of engagement on each side. It ultimately allows us to be integrated, wise, and effective leaders rather than people shouting slogans at the opposition.
Chapter 6: Political Cross-training
All partisan movements add to the fullness of our understanding of society as a whole.
— Alice walker
The evolution of America 7.0 will require all of us — not just blue states or red states, but all states. Not just Democrats but Republicans, Libertarians, and Greens. A major evolution of our country requires the participation of vast numbers of Americans, at all levels of the political process. It will require a revitalized twenty-first century brand of citizenship that is informed, empowered, and engaged. The biggest mistake we can make is to expect that the Oval Office or Congress will do all the work, which is a recipe for failure.
The first step for each of us in embodying greater political wisdom, which I started exploring in the last chapter, is to go beyond exclusive polarities, even the polarity of change versus stability. While the next evolution of America requires change, in seeking that change, we are well served to honor the past upon which we build. A conservative coworker once said to me, “The way I see it, liberals are always trying to change things, and my job is to slow ’em down.” I found this an amusing way to see the dichotomy, as well as speak to the deeper complementarity between value systems.
So while my temperament and values may be progressive, I find it helpful to practice embracing conservative values and seek the common ground that is the foundation of true progress. We can think of this as political crosstraining, and it’s a foundational principle for bringing a sacred dimension into our political process. We can also see this cross-training in the emerging field of transpartisanship, a wonderful movement that is gaining momentum and that approaches political divides with an attitude of civility, respect, and even curiosity, with a goal of finding more common ground.
The need for political cross-training and transpartisanship has grown quite dire because the level of partisanship has reached historic highs. In 1960, a poll that asked Americans whether they would be upset if their son or daughter married a member of the other political party found that only 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats would have. Fast-forward to 2010, and a YouGov poll found the same question resulted in 49 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats expressing concern over the prospect of intraparty marriage. That level of polarization is clearly unhealthy for America.
My story of going beyond my own negative partisanship is to some extent every person’s story as we seek to go beyond our natural predilections and honor values and perspectives that we don’t naturally hold. In this chapter, I share more about my own journey into honoring conservative values. That honoring has not come easily. For the early part of my adulthood I had a visceral disdain for the Republican Party and especially its most deeply conservative wing. They were the “force” holding us back and tethering us to the past, or so it seemed. And I felt annoyed by the power and influence they hold in our culture.
Eventually, rather than resenting conservatives’ skill at amassing money and power, I began to think seriously about what I needed to learn from them. I studied the more conservative businessmen I knew, listened to conservative pundits, undertook mixed martial arts training, and began to recognize that my “radical” identity was preventing me from accessing a more integrated, holistic, and balanced picture of myself. As I began to shift away from being exclusively a Radical Spirit, the brand I had adopted for my work, I joked that I was becoming a Mainstream Spirit. I was gradually embracing the more conservative values of respecting tradition, maintaining longer-term commitments, and building relationships, organizations, and activities in a stable fashion.
When I would give free rein to my desire for rapid change, I would undermine my ability to create enduring value. Manifesting something that endures, I learned, requires some wariness about excess change, a suspicion of the newest idea, and some skepticism about the value of the latest vision. It also requires commitment and focus over the long term. Conservative values often breed good business people for this reason. There’s a greater discernment about new ideas, which translates into more attention to detail, more commitment to staying the course, and a disciplined relationship with life — as well as a willingness and capacity to say no!
As I came to honor the conservative perspective on a deeper level, I began to see that conservatives more easily build upon a sense of lineage because they have greater respect for the past. They have more reverence for the power of a holy text like the Bible that has guided long epochs of human civilization. They have an abiding respect for what works in our market-driven economic system or the founding principles of our country. Conservatives also tend to feel more patriotic because they are more proud of our history and what we’ve already achieved. In that sense, they need not start from square one in their efforts, but stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before them.
To be continued in the next issue of Catalyst...
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