The most difficult part about intense political involvement for me is participating vigorously while observing, and curbing the egoistic tendency to descend into rancor, negativity and ultimately, irrelevance. It goes back to something I heard as a child, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’ how you play the game.” Now that the March 18th special election is over, a contest in which I was intimately involved, the results of the actual vote are not as important as the condition of our community in the aftermath. If we lose our composure in the process of competition, how far will we have traveled on our journey to building a truly cooperative society?
The driving instinct to be the unassailable victor looking down on the defeated adversary lives within us waiting for the sweet moment of conquest. It is part of our deepest impulse to survive. It’s the fight part of the “fight or flight” equation that we are constantly calculating when confronted by uncertainty about our access to the means of survival.
And this is why politics is such an effective crucible, custom made to burn away the dross inherent within our nature. Starting from the premise that violence is not part of the game, (and it hasn’t always been so), we partner up for the fascinating dance of self-engagement through the struggle of working out our differences. We have ingeniously devised a proving ground to test every detail of our collective mettle.
We all talk about how nasty political intercourse can be. That’s the cynical cop out we use to keep our distance from the fire; the fire that will force us to look at the truth about ourselves: we are a juvenile species wrestling with conflict and how to express it in a way that doesn’t wreck the playing field and kill the players.
It all begins with our personal attachment to the results of our actions. We work hard towards a goal, invest our blood, sweat, toil and tears banking on achievement of the lofty pinnacle of success. We mythologize about how deserving we are, how right our motives, how just our cause. We wrap this all tightly into our breasts with the earnest expectation of the consummate prize. This leads us to justify the way we characterize our opponents.
They may begin innocuously as opponents, then they become adversaries, and somewhere along the slippery slope of rationalization, we clearly see an enemy. A foe who stands between us and our right to the Holy Grail. At this moment, our facade of humanity cracks and peels away to reveal the unadorned animal nature, ready to hoist the banner of certain rectitude against which only the devil would dare stand. All that’s left is to choose your weapons and commence with the blood shed.
We’ve heard it said that “the meek will inherit the earth.” The question is: how? Will the meek be all who are left after the demons of domination lay waste to each other, or will we culture an ethic that minimizes egoistic extremes and pursues policy making from a more cooperative angle? It’s an open question, but here’s a glimmering possibility for you.
Simply extend an invitation to goodness. Whether through prayer, mantra or contemplation, just sit for a few moments each morning and consciously invite goodness into your heart. Visualize the people and situations with which you have difficulty and send kindness and good will to them. By doing so we slough off the armor of hard-heartedness and start the process of healing our own wounds and reaching out to others.
This is a practice that I’ve humbly begun; an imperfect work in progress. It has helped me see others in a clearer, friendlier light. This doesn’t mean I won’t disagree with my opponents or try to hold them accountable for their policies and actions.; that’s what debate is about. But I do pledge to do so respectfully, eliminating pejorative slams and slights. I often fail, and in recognizing my failures try to amend my words and actions. It’s a hard, messy business.
Volunteering to enter the crucible of public involvement will confront and change you. For the sake of future challenges, we must all begin to think about our roles in the world and how we will function in times of crisis. Will we promote the highest aspirations of humanity, or will we disintegrate like Tolkein’s ring of power? The crucible is offered to us like a chalice. Will we drink of its experience or turn away?
If we do good for the sake of doing good and let go of our desire for guaranteed results, the good will sprout and bear fruit after its kind. We already know where the other choice leads.