Changing Mindsets: The Internal Struggle

In a country which has become more polarized, where legislators vote along party lines and rarely cross the aisle, and where political polarization is becoming personal too, how can ordinary citizens find anything in common, let alone create a shared vision for the future? Every day that passes, our communities are becoming more divided. Is there anything that can be done to help people think beyond their own needs and begin to focus on the needs of the country? How can we build a society with competing narratives and come together to feel connected to one another through the bond of citizenship? What role do leaders play in helping to change mindsets currently based on fear to move past that with empathy and understanding? What does it take to think differently, to move away from our narrow mindsets and for leaders to value focusing on national interests instead of their own so that our nation can once again move forward in a more peaceful and productive way?

In an address to a joint session of the United States Congress in 1990, former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, said that “without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, a more humane society will not emerge.” In order to stop the cycles of anger, hatred, and fear which fuel so much suffering, requires a radical change in our thinking. Without this change we are destined to remain stuck in the quagmire of violence and aggression, passing down to each generation the legacy of violence and guilt which will only perpetuate these cycles. If, on the other hand, we have an honest commitment to transform consciousness, then we will recognize that true leaders are those individuals who are not afraid to look within, to change the way they think, and heal the pain of those around them. An evolution in consciousness is necessary to step out of the psychological dynamics which keep us stuck in a cycle of dehumanizing one another and creating divisions amongst ourselves. Changing our consciousness will enable us to change our mindsets and see this world differently. With a change in mindset, we can create a more peaceful and accepting world. Developing empathy can be the first step leading to change.

Empathy is the ability to place yourself in the shoes of someone else and to understand the psychological landscape from which they came. When we are empathetic, we can connect with the emotion that others are experiencing. It allows us to show compassion for another human beings, even though we do not have the same experiences. Neuroscience is teaching us that empathy can be learned by perspective taking. This is the ability to understand how a situation appears to another person and how that person is reacting cognitively and emotionally so you can understand what others might want or need. It is the ability to take a perspective in order to gain information by adopting another person’s point of view. When people can take the perspective of someone from an opposing group, one’s ability to empathize can become greater. This is because when we make conscious attempts to understand another’s point of view, we can reshape interactions with other people.

This approach can also support the forgiveness processes. To be able to forgive entails being able to understand someone’s psychological landscape and emotionally feel what they have been feeling. If we can reshape interactions in a more empathetic way perhaps this can also help us to be more forgiving.

Everything around us shapes our beliefs and the way we think. If we recognize the importance of shifting our thinking pragmatically, this can lead to a greater fundamental change, something much deeper and more personal. Taking responsibility for one’s thinking is critical to creating a paradigm shift and to successful processes of political forgiveness. It is a shift which requires an inner conviction. Most importantly you must feel it, and not merely intellectualize about it. If you are not committed to doing that then a lasting change will be elusive. This mindset shift does not happen overnight and is a fundamental process involving emotion more than the intellect.

Changing mindsets is a spiritual pursuit involving politics. Any real change must come from within ourselves and we must embody the change if we want to see it reflected in the world. As Confucius once said, “Virtue begins in the heart, and it ripples outward to transform the family, community, nation and the world.” Great leaders such as Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela are examples of this. They demonstrated a high degree of empathy, a connection to others, a quest for truth and action to foster justice. Instead of letting fear dictate their behavior they recognized that there is more to being human and what gives our lives meaning is the ability to care for one another, not hating or judging one another. Caring for one another, having compassion for one another, this helps us to connect with one another.

Spirituality and politics may seem like strange bedfellows, but they are a very necessary partnership for the healing of humanity. We are living in a world with much division, dehumanization and polarization which cuts us off from each other. We have forgotten our humanity, how to love, how to care for one another. Yet we do live in this world together, we are human beings wanting to live good lives which are joyful and meaningful, and it is together that we will decide how much pain we will put each other through or how much joy we will experience in our lives. To create division is to create pain. To be motivated by fear is to create pain to those we are fearful of. To be motivated by power over someone is to create even more pain. Is this the kind of world we want to create, being motivated by a certain kind of power and fear which hurts others so we can protect ourselves?

We can do better than that. We must do better than that. We have lost our moral compass which takes us to our true north. And our true north is what gives us our greatest happiness. It is what guides us to joining with others, caring about others, and being compassionate towards one another. It is about being human and letting that humanity shine through.

 

The Importance of Leadership in Ending the Cycle of Violence

The Middle East is no stranger to conflict and the flare up in recent weeks was another reminder that just because the conflict does not fill our TV screens every evening, it has far from gone away. Tensions have been mounting recently following difficulty accessing various religious sites, especially during Ramadan, while a number of Palestinian families were facing potential evictions from their homes as a result of some Israeli settlers making claims to their property.

It was against this backdrop that the Hamas terrorist organization proceeded to fire thousands of rockets at Israel who responded with air strikes on Gaza. The back and forth of rockets and missiles during 11 days of conflict resulted in the deaths of more than 256 Palestinians (including 66 children) and 13 Israelis (including 2 children) with many more injured and displaced. The cycle of violence which has taken place from generation to generation continues and nothing has been resolved or accomplished with no real end in sight. How do we deescalate this situation and finally have meaningful dialogue which works towards a solution? What is needed to achieve this?

Leadership. The cycle of violence, the continuous death and destruction must end and for that to happen real leadership is required. Strong and courageous leadership which seeks to actually resolve the conflict and not just calm it for now only to have it flare up months later. There have been some breakthroughs in the past, but these breakthroughs were initiated by the kinds of leaders we are missing today. These were leaders such as Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat. Shimon Peres and even Yasser Arafat were committed to coming together to build peace. Unfortunately, today the current Israeli Prime Minister is driven by his political survival while Hamas has exploited the very people they claim to fight for. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no real control over Palestinians in and is seen as an illegitimate leader by the Palestinian people.

On the global stage there has been a complete lack of real leadership and an inability to bring both sides of the conflict together to discuss all the issues and to offer a viable long-term solution. This should not be seen as something that can be a short term fix and a ‘political win’ that only lasts six months followed by more violence and more missiles being fired. There needs to be a real concerted international effort to bring about an enduring peace to the region.

What is needed from the leaders of today is a genuine political will, and a change of mindset. Most people are in support of a two-state solution as the way forward, it is the only viable solution. There needs to be a change in mindset as to how this will be approached, how it is achieved and what that process looks like.

What would this leadership look like? In an article How Biden Can Be a Leader in an Israeli-Palestinian Conflict That Has None written by Daniel Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller for Politico steps are outlined which can begin a process to end violence between the Palestinians and Israelis. The argument is made that there is a role for American diplomacy that could make meaningful changes on the ground in the Middle East. It does not involve a major initiative to resolve issues such as Jerusalem, borders or refugees, but it does increase the odds of stopping the current and future violence. They outline practical steps which can be seen as a beginning of a political forgiveness process – to stop violence and engage leaders in dialogue including:

  • Nominating a U.S. ambassador to Israel and appointing a senior representative to work the issue full time and to coordinate with the International Quartet (representatives from the U.N., EU and Russia, and the Arab Quartet (Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates).
  • Start an honest dialogue with Israel on the steps Israel must take even as the current Gaza escalation winds down including stopping the demolition of houses and stop expanding settlements in Jerusalem to preserve the idea of two capitals for two future states.
  • Reopen a consulate general in Jerusalem and appoint a consul general to intensify direct dialogue with the Palestinian Authority.
  • Pressure the Palestinian Authority to stop its authoritarian practices and human rights violations. Urge them to hold elections recently canceled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and to stop incentivizing and inciting violence.

There are important steps which need to be taken to set the stage for the necessary dialogues to begin. These steps begin with the importance of building trust. Leaders need to be able to step back and acknowledge their roles and their responsibility in the continuation of the conflict. They need to admit that there has been a wrong committed, that the current situation is not tenable causing more hurt on each side as the situation continues. Leaders need to talk to one another honestly and openly. They need to gain a better understanding of one another, listen to each other and together develop a framework to help resolve this conflict. There also needs to be an acknowledgment from both sides that things need to change to move to an agreed solution.  Leaders who are strong and courageous enough to do this are the real leaders.

We need visionary leadership that recognizes if occupation continues and voices of violent extremist are not marginalized, the violence will not stop. What has happened in the past must be dealt with head-on as a means of focusing all parties on the process and to put violence behind them. Leaders must honor the agreement of stopping violence at all costs and commit themselves to finding new ways of relating to one another. The reason there has never been success with this conflict is that both sides have shirked responsibility, have not admitted to the failings of the past processes, and did not approach this in good faith with an open mind. Instead, they have been approaching the conflict from their own points of interest and from a very narrow perspective, not appreciating that there is another side to this conflict and that a solution needs to work for both sides.

The human element of this conflict must also be addressed including the emotional undertow underlying the political situation which fuels the cycles of revenge. Leaders need to provide a mechanism to work through these emotions in a more productive way as it relates to the historical content of the situation. This requires leaders to respond to situations in a compassionate inclusive way that unites people instead of divides people. This needs to become a political mindset, a guidepost from which leaders act.

The human element is what will bring either success or failure to this process. You can put forth the best peace agreement which is all inclusive but this does not necessarily mean there will be any progress unless there is a change in mentality which transforms thinking so that compassion, inclusiveness, and respect outweigh the need for political gain, revenge, and divisiveness. There needs to be a change in an approach from all sides who are party to this conflict to start de-escalating the conflict and start moving towards a peaceful solution.

This will require international leadership, led by the US, Egypt and the International Quartert, and a transparent and accountable process. Leaders have the capacity to make choices based on greater wisdom and values which can help people rise to their best potential and to achieve shared ideals for a better existence. This is what we can strive for and what it will take if we want to end this conflict and finally break the cycles of violence. This is the work of political forgiveness.

 

 

We Are All Equal

“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”

Rodney King

 

“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” These were the last words of 46-year-old George Floyd. This heinous act occurred in front of witnesses and cameras. George Floyd’s death, and the death of so many other black Americans has sparked a powerful civil rights movement against racism, police brutality and unacceptable discrimination with the powerful message that Black Lives Matter.

The death of George Floyd has brought to the surface, yet again, hundreds of years of systemic racism in the United States. All the accompanying pain, suffering, injustice, and anger that is part and parcel of the experiences of black Americans growing up in the US has come to a head. In addressing the nation following the verdict, President Joe Biden said, “nothing can ever bring their brother or their father back. But this can be a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America. But this is not enough. We cannot stop here. To deliver real change and reform we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this won’t ever happen or occur again.” Biden called systemic racism “a stain on our nation’s soul” and that there has been a collective realization about the reality of systemic racism that has occurred since George Floyd’s death.

So, what can we do to help this country heal? Following George Floyd’s death, structural changes across society have been proposed and these begin with police reform. Vice President Kamala Harris voiced her views that lawmakers must now take up legislation that will fundamentally reform policing in America. There is a collective recognition, broadly across the aisle, that much more needs to be done in this regard. Rep. Karen Bass (D-California), a longtime policing reform advocate, introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which passed the House by a 236-181 vote. Included in the bill is a ban on chokeholds, the ending of “qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers and the creation of national standards for police training. Senator Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), the sole black Republican Senator, put forward a counter proposal which included provisions for making falsified police reports a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. While these bills are a start in holding people, both the police and wider public, accountable for their actions, there is a need for far greater urgency, not just in tackling police reform but tackling the wider systemic racism which exists in the United States today.

Tackling the problem of systemic racism through structural reform is one element of the process but ensuring a real change in society will require a focus on education. In order to end this stain on our democracy we must teach that it is wrong, teach that we are all equal and teach the dangers of dehumanization. When I speak about education, yes I am speaking about our children starting from preschool but I am also speaking about all of us. Education is key. For this to work, to actually root out systemic racism, we all have a role to play and we all need to be educated on how we can play that role. We need to start now. We need to teach forgiveness, we need to teach healing and we need to teach reconciliation. There needs to be broad understanding of values such as respect for human rights and principles of equality, responsibility, and unity. When we can build a platform of knowledge for all citizens, we are building a more peaceful society.

How does this fit into a political forgiveness process? When we think of political forgiveness as an interactive process that involves the healing of individuals, the reconstruction of communal relationships, and the pursuit of a just political order it becomes obvious how important education and structural reform is in the healing of individuals and society. Police reform and child education are an important part of this process but it is not the only aspect that needs to be included in a political forgiveness process. All structures that support systemic racism need to be reformed, including unjust laws. Much work needs to be done. It will take all of us coming together and committing to one another if we want to create a better, stronger and more equal society where we can live in peace with one another. It can be done. The question is do we want a brighter future for everyone?

 

 

The Beginning of a New Way Forward

As Charles Dickens once wrote in his novel A Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worse of times.” Could this be true for us? We are coping with a pandemic and dealing with deep divisions and issues of racial injustice which are profound. Parallels have been drawn between what is happening now and during the Civil War. So where are “the best of times?”

Crisis brings opportunities. Out of our pain can come healing. We know healing begins with truth telling and accountability and fortunately we have models from around the world which we can learn from. The most notable comes from the work of Nelson Mandel and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Although this commission had many flaws it is also a model which can teach us many things. Other models are emerging such as the work being done in Colombia with their truth commission. One of the most interesting aspects of this work is how it views different forms of the truth and works with the differing perceptions. Closer to home is the work done in Canada and their truth and reconciliation commission which provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

A new way forward is about transformation. It takes time and a critical mass to get there. Unfortunately, our culture has de-valued many of its citizens and so our work begins with remembering our humanity, our inner-connectedness and what it means to be a human being. It means zero tolerance for any kind of violence. In this country what we must grapple with is the ideology of racism and violence and the denial of humanity for different groups of people. The work must be comprehensive and work on all levels of society. People need to change mind sets, communities must come together and heal, and there needs to be resources and commitment on the governmental level to change structures in society so what we are now experiencing can never happen again.

Can the worse of times become the best of times? Can we embrace this moment of crisis in a healing capacity as a country so we can go forward with a new vision of who we must be as a nation and have the capacity to demonstrate empathy and care for one another, showing that we value one another? Can we transform our structures to be inclusive instead of exclusive? What I have just described is the work of political forgiveness. In practicing forgiveness politically, we can grow in compassion and empathy and out of that can develop a new culture based on our humanness. This IS our way forward and gives us an opportunity to make profound changes in our society.

For those interested in learning more about political forgiveness please go to my website www.drborris.com. Feel free to sign up for the monthly newsletter which shares information and stories on political forgiveness when you go to the website.

Political Forgiveness 101

There is so much good work happening n the field of peacebuilding and conflict resolution which goes unnoticed and which is very inspiring. Especially heart warming are the women peace makers who bring to the mix compassion, understanding and nurturance. With all the division and “us versus them” mentality to heal these divisions and transform conflict we need to change our mindsets. This is where political forgiveness can come into play.

Political forgiveness not only include individual forgiveness but broadens the concept of forgiveness to the political arena. In a sense it can be seen as a secular version of what can be viewed as more religious or spiritual on an individual level and is about healing not only individually but also on a community and national level as well.

The question becomes “are we ready for this?” Are we at a place where we are willing to let go of our need to be right for the sake of others and to be willing to really listen and hear one another especially behind the what is being said? There is so much fear that we are feeling. Fear of not having a place in society or fear of losing our place, or that we feel we do not matter. There is fear of losing control or not having control and the list goes on.

When we allow ourselves to engage in a political forgiveness process, we begin with the understanding that we want to come together and finally listen to one another. We are willing to acknowledge our part in what ever situation which has been causing conflict, take responsibility for it and work together in a healing capacity. There ae many steps to a political forgiveness process and in order to engage it begins with changing mindsets – a difficult process for some and a process which can be quite profound for others.

In transforming conflict, a political forgiveness process is necessary. Forgiveness on any level requires an inner shift within our beings. In an address to a joint session of the United States Congress in 1990 former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel said that “without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, a more humane society will not emerge.” Stopping the cycles of anger, hatred, and fear which fuel so much suffering, requires a radical change in our thinking. Without this change we will stay stuck in the quagmire of violence and aggression, passing down to each generation the legacy of violence and guilt which will only perpetuate these cycles. If, on the other hand, we are honestly committed to transforming consciousness, then we will recognize that the true heroes are those individuals who are not afraid to look within, to change the way they think, and heal the pain of their heart. This kind of healing transformation is what forgiveness is about.

Healing ourselves, our communities and our nations is not east work, but it is necessary if we want to live more peacefully with one another. The gift is that when we have the courage to do things differently and make changes within ourselves our lives become richer, fuller and more meaningful. When we can listen to one another and help alleviate someone else’s fear by our compassion and understanding we are creating more peaceful societies and a more peaceful world.

 

T

Where has Our Civility Gone?

The other day I was reading in my Nextdoor listserv about a man offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for stealing the Biden/Harris lawn signs in their neighborhood during the night of October 17th. This person will offer a similar reward in the unfortunate event that there is another widespread theft of political lawn signs, regardless of the candidate or cause promoted by the signs. Clearly this individual understands the importance of freedom of speech and the fragility of our democracy. He also understands something about civility.

Where has our civility gone and are we becoming a “culture of rage?” We as a people and a culture need to become more compassionate, tolerant, and empathetic. We need to have more respect for one another. Instead of being so judgmental and sarcastic towards one another, to be more understanding especially concerning the fears that have been engendered within us. We have become incredibly angry people. Is this what we want to be as Americans, as people who once led the world?

I hear of talk of civil war within the United States. We may think this cannot happen in the US but we are already in a political civil war and it is tearing this country apart. Think about this. Is this what we want? There have been times not so long ago when on Capitol Hill leaders from across the aisle would disagree with one another during the day and at night would have drinks with one another, enjoying one another. There was civility and even friendships. Where has this gone? Have we lost our moral and civil compass? Have we gotten so self-centered that we have stopped caring about our neighbor, our community, about one another?

 

It is important that we talk with one another about our fears and concerns – those across our aisle – and remember to treat each other with respect and decency so we can heal the division between “us and them.”

 

How can we stop this political civil war? What has created it and do we care enough to be our better angels where human decency was the norm? We must get back to ourselves, to what makes us feel good as human beings and let that be our guide as to how we choose to be throughout our day. It is important that we talk with one another about our fears and concerns – those across our aisle – and remember to treat each other with respect and decency so we can heal the division between “us and them.” We CAN do this and we might even learn from one another that we are not so different from each other and that we can actually add to the richness of our lives by being there for one another instead of spewing anger and hate towards one another.

There is a glimmer of hope that some people are wanting to turn the tide. Just last night I saw a political campaign ad put out by Utah governor candidates Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) and law professor Chris Peterson (D)together calling for civility. The ad showed the two men standing next to each other asking viewers together to “show the country that there’s a better way.”

United We Stand

 

“We can debate issues without degrading each other’s character,” Peterson says.

“We can disagree without hating each other,” adds Cox.

“No matter who wins the presidential election, we must all commit to a peaceful transfer of power and working together. So please vote and then let’s #standunited for a better America,” the lieutenant governor added.

“Our common values transcend our political differences and the strength of our nation rests on our ability to see that,” Peterson said in a second ad.

They both ended the ad by saying “we approve this ad!” How refreshing this was to see and yes, this is how we can truly be.

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