Sacred America, Sacred World

Installment #14

Part Two
Evolving Our Consciousness
Chapter 6: Political Cross-training
(continued & concluded)

Instead of critiquing the conservative viewpoint, I have learned to honor what I find beautiful about it. If we were to do this honoring collectively, it would help us to find a place of respect that transcends party lines by amplifying what is good rather than attempting to negate what is “wrong.” When progressives fixate exclusively on the “problem” of conservatives, or vice versa, we polarize in a way that keeps us in a self-righteous and judgmental position. This entrenches us in our positions rather than opening us to greater wisdom.

I believe in doing everything we ethically can to champion the political candidates who represent our values and our highest vision. But we can do this from a ground of respect and honoring the so-called “other side.” The truths we speak when we are truly honoring others’ points of view will also be more easily received by people who don’t share our predilections.

Ultimately, I see us all as divine beings carrying forward important tasks on planet earth. We may never understand the full story of why we are here and how we are serving these larger projects, or even with whom we are actually working in unseen realms. But I’ve seen enough to know that there is a grander plan that we are all co-creating. The more we can adopt a stance of respect and even love for the role of each of us in that plan, even those who might appear to be our antagonists, the more effective we can be in fulfilling our role.

For a progressive, it’s a potentially liberating idea that, on a higher level, the most hated conservative “foe” may be our close collaborator in a larger plan. This person might be acting as a provocateur, offering an exaggerated viewpoint that causes us to evolve our own stance. And for a conservative, recognizing that a liberal activist might be part of the same spiritual team could be a breakthrough.

Political cross-training helps us to break out of our self imposed boxes and see opinions, values, and policies with fresh eyes. If we don’t engage this cross-training, we run the risk of wasting valuable energy on polarization, as well as inhibiting our own full development. Honoring what is foreign to us may run counter to our emotions and our personal histories as well as the encouragement of our social circles. It’s easier to rehearse the litany of complaints and critiques we have about the “other.” And yet so long as antagonism grows, we weaken our ability to work together toward shared goals or learn from the talents someone else has developed.

Political cross-training resembles sports cross-training; by training our body in different ways we can improve our skills in our “main” sport. Similarly, political cross-training says that we might become more effective progressives when we train and work with conservatives. Or that we may actually be a stronger conservative if we can spend time in an artist’s colony and learn from their freewheeling ways.

I’m thinking of my friend Joseph McCormick, who began his career as a military marksman, then graduated to opposition research for Republican candidates and even became a candidate for Congress from Georgia. After that phase of his life came to an end, he took a year in retreat in North Carolina in a rural area. Although he had held a strong visceral disdain for hippies from his youth, he met, befriended, and began to learn from his countercultural hippie neighbors. This was the genesis of a profound shift that eventually led him to create the Transpartisan Alliance to seek higher common ground and help reunite our democracy. His time “behind enemy lines” allowed him to grow and open in many ways, expanding the compass of his heart and leading him to a higher form of service than taking down Democratic candidates through his opposition research. Because he was respected by conservatives, Joseph was able to bring people like anti-tax activist Grover Norquist to the table with left-wing leaders such as Al Gore to engage in transpartisan dialogue.

While our personal stories might be less dramatic than Joseph’s, they are no less important. How can we each truly learn from those who appear to hold opinions that are opposite ours?

My father-in-law Larry Mitchell was a man with strongly conservative views. He initially had such disdain for my progressive views that we ended up in an email war that horrified my wife Devaa. After reading a column I wrote about Fierce Love as a response to terrorism, he took it upon himself to teach me a lesson—with many of his friends and family cc’d! During this intense exchange about the military, war, terrorism, and more, he blasted me with such gems as “If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then Stephen is from Uranus.” He was quite funny in his skewering at times (as well as brutal), but the initial paradigm clash eventually gave way to respect. I learned quite a bit from him, taking on his challenge to learn business disciplines and engage in mixed martial arts training to toughen up after years in more peaceful pursuits. In the end, he helped make a more balanced man out of me and provided me with some of my most significant political cross-training.

So ask yourself: Whom have I been judging? How might I take the time to learn from their perspectives and integrate their capacities? Doing this can make us all stronger and wiser citizens.

To be continued in the next issue of Catalyst...

Read Previous Issues
Installment #1 | Installment #2 | Installment #3 | Installment #4 | Installment #5 | Installment #6 | Installment #7 | Installment #8 | Installment #9 | Installment #10 | Installment #11 | Installment #12 | Installment #13

 

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This article appears in: 2022 Catalyst, Issue 5: Qigong Global Summit

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