There’s a common misconception rampant in political and other discourse in the world today, and it leads to all kinds of injustice, terrorism, and other spiritual horrors. It’s the idea that love of what’s right is the same thing as hatred of what’s wrong. The two are like day and night. One heals, the other leads to endless conflict and destruction.
The world at this time of crisis on many levels needs to focus on strengthening what’s good, not just trying to destroy evil and enemies. We need to keep in mind the warning about the beam and the mote – what’s in your own head and heart when you’re condemning the faults of others – and remember that argumentative defense of any idea or agenda is missing the point not because the idea or agenda is wrong, but because the truth is not in our ideas but in the quality of our relationships with others, at all times, even especially in moments of disagreement.
From higher-quality relationships come higher-quality ideas, and the energy to carry them out. To anyone observing an argument from a place of real peace, what’s most obvious is not the truth or fallacy of this or that idea, but that both parties have become for some reason afraid of each other. When you see things in this way, the human need displayed in such situations is obvious – the need for safety from something, which is often safety from just the kinds of judgments that are being thrown back and forth defensively.
When we find ourselves in conflict, it’s vital to remember that tact and tolerance are the earmarks of a great soul – signs of spiritual maturity. Sometimes we have to deal with conflicts head‑on. Dishonesty, manipulation, and attempts to claim arbitrary authority over others have to be seen and condemned for what they are. But leaving it at that only creates resentment. Letting spiritual immaturity distract us from more important things needlessly compounds the harm it does. We can go farther in our growth together by focusing on our values and needs that live deeper than such friction.
How do we step out of such conflict without seeming to give up and let the other “win”? (The Arab-Israeli conflict being current examples on an international scale.)
There’s no way to do so without one or the other party to the conflict— both is great— stepping up to a higher level. You can’t end conflict in a relationship until one or the other rises above it, to a place where there is no conflict, even if the other is still hanging on to it. This is not a euphemistic retreat into denial but a spiritual lifting of the relationship – an expansion of consciousness, not a shrinking of it into denial and avoidance. It has to be real, in other words, not wishful thinking or self-deception.
One of the ways to tell whether it’s real is to ask yourself honestly if you’ve really suspended your judgments of the person you’re disagreeing with – if you’ve replaced such conclusions with curiosity. Curiosity dissolves fear, and implies enough humility to acknowledge that you don’t know everything, which leaves you free to discover more. The more deeply we discover and know people, no matter how great our intellectual disagreements with them, the easier it is to care about those people – and the harder it is to not care – and the same principle holds between groups of people – societies, religions, cultures, nations.
By Stan Hartman
So much of the world is caught in a negative faith, the faith in fear, the faith in what’s harmful – or at least many of those who are making big decisions for the rest of us, or saying they are but really making such decisions for themselves, are caught in such fear, while the busy farmer or factory worker or mother or whatever are shaking their heads and going about their business as best they can, despite such needless compounding of everyone’s problems.
The meaning and hope of America, which the rest of the world seems to be more aware of these days than many Americans are, is that such “common,” salt-of-the-earth people have the power to change things. I was always disappointed rather than inspired back in the sixties when people would shout, “Power to the people!” – as if they didn’t have it already! It was inadvertently reinforcing people’s belief in their own impotence, which was why it was a slogan that inspired resentment and anger, not clear-headed, creative thinking about the problems of the time.
To take the Arab-Israeli conflict as an example, I remember watching a meeting on television years ago between a Palestinian leader and an Israeli leader, talking about who should have possession of Jerusalem. After various arguments were put forth on both sides, the Arab leader finally transcended the conflict and said, “If you really love something, it should make it easier for you to understand how someone else can love it too.”
Immediately the relationship shifted to a higher level, based on a higher value, which made the merely political conflicts seem petty by comparison. They were no longer focused on who had done what to whom, or who was more worthy to be trusted with so important a heritage. They were focused on their simple experience of love for the ancient city where so much human tragedy and spiritual triumph had been acted out, where so many heroes of both faiths had shown the world the value of faith in the highest reaches of the human spirit and what it reaches for. They were both experiencing this love in the moment, rose above their intellectual arguments, and saw the truth of what was needed, no matter how hopeless it might seem to them to make such truth triumph over the fear and hatred existing between their peoples – truth too large to be perceived merely with the intellect, that has to be felt in one’s whole being, which it unifies.
Was the moment fleeting? Yes, but so are most of the best moments of our lives, beacons flashing from the spiritual harbor we struggle toward, which are meant to change or validate our course and give us hope. Were they able to sustain such vision and spread it to others until it showed their people unforgettably how humanity is one family with a higher calling than prejudice, greed, and vengeance? Obviously not, but in a way it doesn’t matter what came of their moment of unity. What matters is that it happened, and can happen again. Those who experience spiritual truth, who know it intimately, not just through the written traditions of other people’s experiences, know that between “enemies” or friends such moments never die, because they have eternal value.
Anyone who has ever experienced such moments knows they have eternal value, though they may not have realized such meaning intellectually. Such moments are the ways we experience eternal realities, not at some unimaginably future time, but here and now, and they make it a little easier for all who come after to do the same. They make us and the world around us a little more real, in the highest meaning of that word. No one can take them from us because they are part of us literally forever – part of that aspect of us that even physical death can’t defeat.
In the great Chinese Book of Changes is the statement, “One incurs no blame in giving up one’s life that the good and the right may prevail. There are things that are more important than life.” They are more important than life because they are the experiences of a greater life, and these are the values that will unite the world one day, despite how hopeless that may appear at the present time. Love of the good, not hatred of evil, is what will carry humanity forward.