A call for unity

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In a letter to Venerable Thubten Chodron, a student suggests ways we can get past the polarization of our current political times. To hear Venerable Chodron’s reflections on what the letter meant to her, see the Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talk recorded a few days after receiving this letter.

Silhouette of people standing in front of the US flag.
We can do better when it comes to relating to those of differing political views. (Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels)

After the recent events at the Capitol and my initial shock and even outrage, I’ve been watching my mind carefully. My initial outrage has given way to sadness and frankly a feeling of media burn out from the coverage. I’m getting pretty tired of well-meaning friends and family sending me videos and articles the tone of which is: “Can you believe those Trump supporters??!! How dare they do such a thing??!! They must be made to pay!! Only awful people would do such awful things… Trump too must pay and we should rejoice in his suffering”…or so we are led to believe…..And for a minute there, I was getting right on board with that narrative. But something was pulling at me. Call it my inner Dharma voice, don’t know, but something was gnawing at me, telling me: Enough already!! This is not helpful for my mind!! This is not the answer! We can do better than this when it comes to relating to those of differing political views. I can do better than this!

If we continue this information bias and feeding our worldview of: I’m right they’re wrong, us and them, then it will only lead to more self-righteous indignation and hatred. This is not a path I want to go down.
My view (and I hope this does not sound condescending) is that when it comes to some people on the far right, it’s almost as if we have a sick family member. They’ve been profoundly misled, lied to, and as a result are having difficulty seeing reality. Call it Wrong View(s). But make no mistake, sick or not, they are part of the family of our fellow Americans. We must not give up on them.

Recently I viewed your video about the importance of truth. I truly appreciate what you have taught us about truth. Looking into the mirror and asking in what ways have I been misleading, dishonest, or untruthful and how can I do better is truly a powerful practice. Clearly truth is important. It’s a good start. We need something more. I was reminded of one of my heroes Nelson Mandela. When he was elected president of South Africa after years of imprisonment, he did not respond with hatred. No, he formed a truth and reconciliation commission. It seems to me we need to find some common ground. To heal, learn the lessons, and to somehow move on from this. Perhaps we need to borrow a page from Mandela’s book and have a truth and reconciliation commission as well.

While it’s true some people need to be held accountable for their actions it should not be done with a sense of righteousness, mockery, ridicule, anger and blame. This is the response from some on the Left. None of these things are helpful and only serve to inflame the situation. We have to show them some compassion and respect. You’ve written and spoken extensively about moving beyond blame. Please let’s do that now.

If I view those who stormed the Capitol and Trump supporters as sick or afflicted with wrong views, then I suppose I need to ask myself, “In what ways am I also afflicted with wrong views?” In light of the fact that we all have Buddha potential, any antipathy towards Trump supporters in even its most subtle form would be a wrong view. It’s simply a matter of degrees. 

There is no such thing as Red America and Blue America. There is only purple America. Political differences cut through cities, towns, families, friends, neighbors, etc. How to divide these? Is more division really the answer? I think not. This call for secession from some on the far right is not the answer. We in this country are all interconnected in one way or another. Now more than ever we need to remember that we are ONE American family. And more to the point as His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “One human family”.

This is my plea: I am imploring myself and others to strive as much as possible for a show of unity. Compassion. Forgiveness. Find some common ground and don’t give in to anger and hatred.

Finally I remember the inspiring teachings of our great teacher the Buddha:

Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love alone; this is the eternal rule.

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