A Recent Failure and How Spirit Always Has My Back
Do you listen to podcasts? I’m in love with them. My podcast playlist includes a diverse collection. Here are just a few: Why Shamanism Now by Christina Pratt, The RobCast by Rob Bell (a Christian teacher who has a VERY exciting take on Christianity and spirituality in general), The Savage Lovecast (by Dan Savage, a relationship and sex advice show), The Good Life Project, The Lucky Mojo Rootwork Hour, Start Up, Serial, Invisibilia, On Being with Krista Tippet, TED Radio Hour. Even though they are all about different things, somehow they all support each other and come together in my head.
I’ve long known that podcasts, for whatever reason, are important to me. They aren’t just interesting. They seem to be way that Spirit talks to me. Yes, even through the Savage Lovecast (Dan is always reminding us to "use our words!" This is good advice in almost all situations.). And it is through a podcast that the Divine gave me a reminder of who I am, or more appropriately, of who I want to be. Not only who, but also how. Let me explain.
This year I’ve been working on being kind. Not just polite or nice, but kind in the deepest, truest senses of the word. I want to focus on the person I am interacting with and really hear them, which is an important part of kindness. Through listening, we can understand what a person needs. By understanding what they need, you can meet that need with grace and while honoring of their dignity.
Perhaps this comes easy for you. I imagine not everyone is as mean and self-centered as I often am. For most of my life, my identity has hinged on what people think about me and on being perceived as “smart.” Consequently, I spent a lot of energy making sure that I was seen as “smart” without regard for how it made others feel. It is shameful that it’s taken me this long to realize how I was behaving and to begin changing it.
The heartening news (for me and for those around me) is that because of the shamanic work I’ve done over the last few years and particularly last winter, I am making (mostly) good progress in being more kind.
But recently I failed. I knew it when it was happening and I still did it. For someone who wants to be seen as smart, I sure can be stupid.
A friend posted one of those amusing (or not so amusing) political pictures and quotes on Facebook. This friend is generous, loyal, and loving. She has only ever treated me with friendship and love. She and I have very different political views. We never discuss politics. As you may have noticed, the world is really kind of crazy at the moment and emotions are running so high and it affected me, even though normally I’m great at ignoring political craziness.
I wrote a comment that was measured and thoughtful and dripping with judgement disguised as reason (one of my specialties). I knew it was a mistake and I deleted it without posting. Then I wrote her a private message that was the same. I deleted it because I knew that it would achieve no good end and would just throw gasoline on a fire.
That very evening I saw her along with another friend and we all chatted. That picture she posted came up. And even though I’d resisted twice already, was already very aware that commenting would be A Very Bad Thing, I opened my mouth and let the words fall out.
We parted with hugs and good wishes, but let me assure you, I felt lousy. The conversation was not a conversation, an exchange of ideas, or an interest in what the other person thought. It was simply an exchange of opinions fueled by emotions. No one was enlightened. No one felt like they understood the other better or walked away respecting the other person's opinion. There was no forward movement.
The next day I listened to Episode 56 of the RobCast. It is part of a very interesting five part series call Politics and Guns. This part is called the Power of Policy. I’d encourage you to listen to the whole series. Like I said: very interesting.
Through this episode the Divine helped remind me not so much of who I want to be (I know who and I know I failed that night) but just as important, how to be that person.
One of the things that stands in the way of true kindness is judgment. And I don’t know about you, but boy oh boy, I can be very judgy. It kind of goes with wanting to be thought of as smart. See, if I can judge whatever you say and prove that it is weak logic or an incorrect premise or a mistaken fact, then I get to look smart. And like an asshole.
Looking smart and being an asshole doesn’t accomplish anything except making people not want to be around you. It certainly isn't kind. It does not further dialogue. It does not encourage working together to solve problems...it just makes it feel like there is and never can be common ground.
If I am interested in solving problems in this world, then being a smart asshole isn’t the route to go. Besides, I want to kind, dammit.
The opposite of mental judgment (in my opinion) is curiousity. And Rob Bell agrees. In that episode I mention, he talks a lot about this issue and gives suggestions for talking to people in a way to actually encourage sharing and working together rather than to fuel disagreement.
First, it is helpful to admit that you are not going to change each other’s minds, probably at all or ever. And you are certainly are not going to do by yelling louder or by using hateful, inflammatory language.
Second, making sure that everyone knows your opinion isn’t really that important. Likely they already know or can guess. If you are posting mean-spirited “funnies,” ask yourself why you are posting them. What is your objective and how likely is it that that funny that insults everyone who disagrees with you is going to affect positive change in the world? Probably it is just doing more to widen the gap, to make the possibility of solutions even less likely. More than likely, it is spreading hate and general negative energy. But then, I’m kind of woo woo like that. I believe words (spoken or written) have power and that we shouldn’t throw them around so lightly and thoughtlessly.
Third, probably the best you can do is to sincerely try to understand the other person. If you stop assuming that the person who disagrees with you is just a stupid idiot who shouldn’t be allowed to vote, you might find out that you are not as far apart in your opinions as it first seemed.
We are not taught how to be interested in others or how to ask questions in a way that doesn’t feel like an interregation. So Rob gives us some ideas. Here are ones that I liked:
1. The always useful: “Tell me more about that.” Simple, direct, this statement is neutral, conveys interest and the intent to actually listen, and gives the other person a chance to talk in depth rather than in sound bites, headlines, or bumperstickers.
2. “What people, sources, journalists, shows, etc, helped shape your beliefs?” Just as I swim in the waters of tarot and, for example, the podcasts I mentioned, other people swim in different waters. If you understand what is shaping a person, you can understand more about him or her.
3. “When did you first realize this is how you thought/felt?” This can be an interesting question both the asker and the asked. It invites the person to think back and trace how their opinions were formed. It may also remind that maybe they didn’t always feel this way and that if they changed their mind once, they may change in it again, if they take in new information.
4.” How do your _____________ friends feel about that?” This one is MUCH trickier as it is very easy to come out sounding patronizing. But if someone is making a blanket statement about, say, Muslims, Christians, gay folks, Republicans, etc., ask them “How do your Muslim friends feel about your opinion/belief?” It’s tricky because more than likely they don’t have any of the people they are bashing as friends because, as most of us know, once you actually know someone personally, it is harder to villainize, demonize, or hate an entire class that would include your friend. Also, if they do have friends within the group they are villainizing, maybe the question would encourage them to engage in dialogue. See, instead of spreading hate and willful misunderstanding, you can spread curiosity!
5. “What specific policy bothers you the most?” Also tricky because if people are like me, they may not know actual policy, and so it can come off sounding like “I want to feel smart” or “I am an asshole and want to make you feel stupid.” But the point is, it is easy for me to say “I think we need more gun control!” However, to be honest I don’t know what a person in my county or state has to go through to get a gun. Is it the same every where? And it is easy for someone to yell back at me, “You liberals want to take all our guns away!” Clearly on opposite sides of the debate, right? Maybe, maybe not. If we looked at an actual piece of policy, we might find that either we are really close in what we think is acceptable or close enough that we could agree on compromises that we could both live with. Without calling each other hateful names.
What does all of this have to do with kindness? I think it has a lot to do with kindness because I think kindness includes respect for others. And mean-spirited funnies aren’t respectful. Calling each other names and saying things in a purposefully inflammatory manner isn’t kind. Hell, I’ve even heard people use the very neutral descriptors of “Democrat” and “Republican” in tones of voice that make them sound like filthy words.
If we are going to save this world and save ourselves, it isn’t going to be through one side being right and the other wrong. It isn’t going to be through taking stands like “I will never compromise my beliefs” (and the logical conclusion, which is: and I will impose my beliefs on everyone around me). It is going to be through compromise, through understanding. How hard is it to be sincerely intersted in someone?
So that’s what I’m going to focus on in the coming months (until it becomes natural for me): kindness. Letting go of needing to be smart (and an asshole). Releasing judgment and embracing curiousity. Listen and respect my fellow human beings instead of assuming because they have a different label than me that I already know everything I need to know about them.
I failed and it sucked. I hate failing, but I’ll deal with that once I get this kindness thing down. The Divine was there, through my podcast habit, to remind me what being kind actually looks like. I'm grateful for Divine grace that is infinitely patient with me. And if you read this all the way through, I'm super grateful for you!
This morning I listened to a Good Life Project Riff (short podcasts that briefly explore a subject) called What if You Were Defined by Your Worst Moment? You can listen to it HERE. I suggest you do, because it is really good and under six minutes.
I've seen too many relationships, beautiful, loving, nurturing relationships or reputations thrown away or destroyed, because one person made a mistake. As Jonathon says in the podcast, a lifetime of loving, kind acts can be erased by one moment of reaction, stress, anger, or other human emotion. He posits and I agree, that we do better (and are making a more accurate judgment) to look at the long haul, the cumulative goodness as the norm and the one thing, the one mistake, as an anomaly and part of being human. And you must know, I'm talking about mistakes and not talking about things like assault and such. Nor am I talking about reasonable discernment.
He turns the question on us: how would our characters be described if someone used only our worst moment? How accurate would it be? Not very, I bet. So why are we so quick to think that one mistake means we need to say "Aha! They've shown their true colors and now I will never trust them again!"
We, or at least I, do this to myself as well. One mistake and I think of myself as some lame loser who has never had one bit of value. Or maybe something less extreme, but still, pretty hateful and unrealistic.
I don't know why we do this. Maybe because it makes life easier in some ways. We like things simple and black and white. Rules help make things easier and just cutting a person off is a lot easier than working through emotional messes.
Maybe next time you find yourself judging yourself or someone else, first measure that thought against the idea of judgment being a way to give life rather than crush life.
Image: Judgement from Llewellyn's Classic Tarot, by Barbara Moore and Eugene Smith