Sometimes in the wee hours of the morning, I wake up and cannot go back to sleep. When none of my usual remedies work, I wander into my study and read. Lately, my insomnia has led me to pick up Jon Kabat-Zinn’s tome, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. Due to the increased frequency of these midnight meanderings, I am close to the end of the book and have found some timely wisdom in the closing chapters. The book has not only reaffirmed my belief in the benefits of a personal meditative practice, but now has me imagining how our society might benefit from the same nondual attentiveness to what is. Even though the book was published in 2005, Kabat-Zinn’s words are oddly prescient.
Just as medicine has learned that it has to focus on and understand health as well as disease to appropriately treat a person, so we need to act from the side of the health of the society rather than continually reacting to flare-ups or threats of dis-ease.
As I read his words, I couldn’t help but think that our country is going through a “flare-up” right now. The divisiveness, the rancor, the divisions between class, and race seem to plague us more than ever. Yet, the cure cannot always be found in a political platform, legislation, or judicial rulings. The cure also rests within each of us. As Kabat-Zinn contends the answer is already here, “right under our noses.” However, sometimes our own noses get in the way, and we cannot see beyond the stance of “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It takes an open heartedness that comes from a belief in human goodness, but also a humility that recognizes the darker sides we all carry. In other words, we need a clear eyed view of our inherent goodness and our flaws. Yet, one cannot balance an open heart and humility without hope. It is hope that urges us forward. Without hope, we either remain stagnant in sanctimonious isolation or fall into deep despair over our flaws and failures. In the end all three are needed…an open heart, humility, and hopefulness.
It was with an open heart, humility, and hope that Mike Wilson, the editor of the Dallas Morning News, stepped outside his office one day. Wilson wanted to meet with protesters who were angry over his newspaper’s endorsement of Hilary Clinton. He hoped to hear their concerns and share his newspaper’s point of view. While the discussion was civil, things did not improve after the election. When Wilson wrote an editorial in response to the President’s statements about the media being the “enemy of the people,” he received a fresh batch of angry emails complaining about his piece. Several of the emails stood out and Wilson decided to invite the disgruntled readers to come in and talk with him. Two men, Stace Bradshaw and Mike Standish accepted the invitation. They met privately with Wilson and then sat in on an editorial staff meeting. The end result was not agreement but something deeper and perhaps more long lasting.
As Stace Bradshaw said afterwards, “I've had visions of them [newspaper staff] all sitting around the water cooler and ripping on Republicans and ripping on Trump.” But he also realized that, “it's good to talk to people one on one and realize that they don't even realize necessarily what you're thinking.”
Mike Standish while still peeved about the paper’s reporting came to a humble realization of his role in the divisiveness. “Our country really needs this. We're so divided right now. It's awful. And I'm probably part of the problem.”
In the end, Mike Wilson remained cautiously hopeful, “Maybe, having heard me out, they'll read stories and they'll hear my voice. They want me to hear theirs. They want me to read it like they do. Maybe they'll read the stories and sort of hear my voice in there and see my attempts to be fair-- our attempts to be fair.”
Even though the end result was not agreement, these men seemed to gain an understanding of each other and perhaps themselves. Maybe that is all we need right now. At the very least, it seems to be a good first step and might set us on a path to what Kabat-Zinn refers to as the “politics of wisdom and compassion.” Surely, with open hearts, humility, and hope we will get there.
Kabat-Zinn, J. Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. (2005). New York, NY: Hyperion.