The animus between people in America these days is troubling. I have become so desirous of avoiding confrontation that I no longer read or post anything on Facebook to avoid dealing with uncomfortably stark political differences with friends. Keeping relationships with people is more important than inserting myself into our differences of political opinion. Perhaps I am a coward. Or maybe it is not that important to me to be right. Or maybe inside I am willing to admit that perhaps I am wrong in my read of the world. Somebody is uninformed – maybe it is me! Or maybe I intuitively trust that all things will work out for the good, even if we have to go through some pain to get there, and in the end our differences will settle.
I see the problem largely as one rooted in fear. It is a fear that has arisen because everything we think and believe and take for granted to be real has all of a sudden been thrown into question. Realizing that others see things so differently undermines our whole sense of reality. It occurs to us, if only in a quickly suppressed flash, that everything we see, and everything we think we know may all be an illusion. And perhaps this sudden and disorienting sense of groundlessness, along with our survival instinct, is at the root of why we get so defensive and angry and fight so hard for our one-sided opinions, however arbitrary they may really be. With our fight-or-flight instincts, somewhere deep inside we think we are in a struggle for dear life, trying to survive and preserve our concept of “me.”
Or if we think outside the box and draw different conclusions, we fear being criticized or ostracized by the people we keep company with. To each of us, our current viewpoint - our current movie of waking life - seems irrefutably real. We are all convinced that the way we see things is the way they really are. The illusory appearance that consciousness creates is, after all, very convincing! And yet, no two of us see everything in exactly the same way. Some of us see things in completely opposite and utterly irreconcilable ways. So what really is real?
What happens within us when someone comes at us with judgment, anger, hatred and violence (whether actual or verbal)? How do we react when someone makes it clear that they despise us and consider us to be scum? What reaction does this bring forth? In my reckoning, it usually makes us tighten up and get even more hardened in our recalcitrant positions and hateful of the perceived adversary. But what would happen if we were met at such a moment with genuine (not fake or manipulative, but genuine) love and compassion by someone who sees beyond our surface behavior of opinionizing to the light inside of us, however buried it may be? In my experience, when we are met in such a way, we are much more likely to let go of our hardened opinions, taking a closer look at what we’re doing, and wake up to the reality that we can be all one people, one country, with mostly shared values and objectives, really. That is real.