A slow, steady, daily practice of loving kindness and compassion for all people can tear down walls. Even Trump sized walls.
With compassion in mind, I watched the Republican National Convention. Compassion for all includes compassion for an influential celebrity who chooses to spew divisive words of hatred and fear. It includes compassion for supporters who think white is better than black and straight is better than gay and christian is better than muslim.
With kindness in mind, I tried to understand why the speakers think the way they do. I tried to understand why their words trigger a reaction in me. I accepted that the words cause a reaction in me other than compassion and kindness. I breathed.
I do this every time someone in my friend group posts something on social media that causes a reaction in my gut. I get a feeling, something in my body, tangible. I want to respond immediately, but I don’t. I’m not ignoring it. I’m working with it. I am feeling my feelings. I’m trying to figure out why I feel them. I’m trying to figure out what they even are.
Sometimes it’s nausea mixed with anger mixed with panic mixed with disbelief mixed with confusion. But it’s definitely not kindness or compassion. Where do they come from?
They come from somewhere. They are inside of me and they well up to the surface when something triggers them. They are a part of my physiology. And they stack up like bricks around my heart.
So I breathe through them, and I try to soften. I breathe and I try to soften.
Why do I feel this way? My feelings come from every moment that has happened before this one in my life. And so do their feelings, the feelings that produced their words and ideas. I try to understand why I feel the way I do. Then I try to understand why they feel the way they do.
We are all just products of circumstance. We are products of where we were born, how we were raised and what we were taught. It was someone’s responsibility to educate us; our parents, our teachers, our neighborhoods, our churches.
We think our ideas are our own, but they’re not. They all grew from seeds that were planted by someone else, by some person or experience in our past.
I was discussing this idea with Maggie the other day, and my 15 year old social justice warrior told me in no uncertain terms that we can no longer sow those seeds, because it is “our responsibility to unlearn everything we’ve been taught.” I reminded the young idealist that not everyone believes in letting go of our ancestors’ ideas and embracing a new age.
Coincidentally, I had just read a book about Robert Louis Stevenson, and had been completely taken by a passage he wrote. He said, “You cannot change ancestral feelings of right and wrong without what is practically soul murder.”
Soul murder. These are strong words. Trying to change someone else’s mind is like trying to murder their soul, and the souls of their ancestors. We hold on tightly to the things we have been taught. So tightly that some of them are written in our genes.
He went on to advise, “Barbarous as the customs may seem, always hear them with patience, always judge them with gentleness, always find in them some seed of good”.
I am trying to do this, daily. I’ve added his requests for patience and gentleness to my own practice of compassion and kindness.
I don’t argue about politics in the interest of kindness. I don’t want to commit soul murder on anyone.
As I watch the Democratic National Convention tonight, in the interest of compassion, I will continue to slowly gently soften, breath by breath. Tearing my own walls down patiently and gently, brick by brick.