Years ago, when I was too young to care, most people were quite coy about their political preferences. Discussing politics publicly was considered impolite as it could create discord among friends and family, which was to be avoided at all costs.
Over the past couple of decades, however, political discussions have become increasingly frank, public, and divisive. Probably due to the impact of the Internet, political posturing is now something of a modern blood sport that can do real harm to social as well as intimate relationships.
But what if we could truly understand how people–ALL people–arrive at their choices and beliefs? Could we narrow the gap caused by the dangerous and disheartening polarization and social fragmentation taking place today, in person and especially online?
Find A True Understanding Of Humanity
Both political and religious choices are a reflection of a person’s deepest values and beliefs, and these choices will always have their roots in a desire (mostly unconscious) to be happy and avoid suffering. The ultimate intention is to avoid feeling any degree of discomfort due to disagreement and feel better as quickly as possible.
People essentially make decisions from an emotional standpoint rather than a rational one, leading to passionate and impulsive choices. Unexamined, or buried, emotions usually lead to irrational behavior and being triggered when we feel afraid, angry, or humiliated for any reason.
With a bit of goodwill and a conscious awareness of our own behavior and emotions, i.e., mindfulness, we can feel better and help those around us feel better too. Practicing mindfulness makes us take a step back from our thoughts and emotions and understand how and why we react to things the way we do. It reduces our tendency to be triggered by events or people around us.
Be Mindful Of Yourself And Others
Quite often, people are raised in a family, society, or culture that perpetuates a particular way of looking at politics or religion. Questioning the belief means risking expulsion from the society or even your own family. This being the case, most people can rarely clarify why they believe in the things they do as they’ve never questioned it.
Even self-proclaimed well-educated and open-minded people get highly defensive and, at times, aggressive when confronted with an idea or opinion that challenges their worldview. It’s so much more comforting to feel safe and righteous in our beliefs, without having to question them! But eventually, that bubble bursts, and we bump against something that either makes us question things or tighten our grip on our opinions.
Through the practice of mindfulness, we start to see that we have so much more in common with each others than we usually admit. By really understanding how deeply interconnected we all are, we start to realize that insulting or judging other people causes negative repercussions on ourselves, in the form of emotions or a more stressful environment around us.
Focus On The Long-Term Effects
It might feel good in the short run to lash out at someone for different beliefs, but sooner or later, we begin to feel threatened by the same aggression and even violence that we have unwittingly been feeding with our own judgmental attitudes.
Instead of criticizing others, we can practice wishing them happiness and good health, because everyone behaves better toward themselves and others when they are happy and well.
Respecting someone else’s opinion doesn’t mean sharing the same belief. We can strongly disagree with each other and still remain respectful and kind (yes, really!). Understanding that all people want is to be happy, safe, and well helps us to see them as another human being, even if they have a different idea about how to achieve these shared goals.