Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
Exercising Contemplative Power
Reflection – Political Climate

February 2012

When I exercise at the gym in the morning I’ve taken to watching the MSNBC program Morning Joe. Joe Scarborough, former Republican US Congressperson, and Mika Brzezinski, television journalist and author, are the co-hosts. Their commentary is more centrist than my own views; however, their guests and their regular commentators represent the broad spectrum of political positions. As I listen I find myself wondering if exercising contemplative power within the political arena may mean “letting go” of some of my preconceived beliefs about an issue.

For example, recently Joe was talking with a Democratic Congressperson from South Carolina about education noting that the US spends more money on education than any other country and yet we have a dismal record in terms of success. Joe raised the issue: where does the money go? It doesn’t go to the students, nor to the teachers – so often it goes for unnecessary administrative expenses. He then went on to bring in the role of the teacher unions which he sees as blocking many new innovations. I found myself thinking there is some truth there. And I startled myself for although I can be critical of organized labor I do it from the position of a strong supporter.

I found myself wondering – what if we really looked at the problem facing us in terms of the education of our future generations and released ourselves from all the categories and assumptions that form the “debate”? Would we be able to address the problem with fresh eyes? Would we be able to be in a space to see the new? Is that a way of exercising contemplative power—to ask the question differently? To diffuse the usual “hooks” that keep us entrenched in our usual position?

Obviously this or any other significant issue would be a monumental task during a Presidential election year. I find the rhetoric that surrounds the Republican primary and its multiple debates excruciating. It has felt as if each person was competing for the bottom of the barrel in terms of the most aggressive, least compassionate, most ethnocentric, and least concerned for the common good. Few voices have been raised in counterpoint to this prevailing chorus. Of course they are speaking to the Republican base but the airwaves carry their message everywhere. And if you hear something often enough, long enough, it begins to seep into your subconscious and may take hold. And this kind of political climate will not lessen once the nomination is determined. The visceral hatred for President Obama by some will make the general election even more polarizing and mean-spirited.

How do I, do you, do we, approach our deteriorating political discourse in our everyday lives? I used to scream at the TV during the debates or make cynical remarks because of the mentality that they seem to be operating out of – yet I find myself not doing that so much anymore. Does that mean I have lost my passion? My convictions? In the past, it seemed my strong belief in my position fueled my response. Friends, colleagues, expected a strong critical reaction. If you are not that clear about the “winning” side can you be strong in how you express your position? How do I, we, give voice to what we believe is untrue or certainly slanted? How do I express my truth in the midst of this climate? How does coming from a consciousness shaped by contemplation find expression within the political arena?

I’m reminded of the ICCD invitation to “A Coffee and Tea Contemplation Party” two years ago. Perhaps that invitation needs to be reissued where we invite friends, neighbors, co-workers whose positions span the political spectrum to share at a different level. It could help create a safe space to grapple with the complexity of what is facing us as a nation, as an Earth community. Such an effort contributes to the various initiatives regarding the need for civil conversations, for civility in the political arena. It helps to grow the field of a different consciousness.

Perhaps approaching all of this from a contemplative perspective frees us to be more direct, clearer and less judgmental. But I’m feeling exercising contemplative power in this arena is asking of me to change some very well developed muscles of political activism and to strengthen some new muscle groups. I’m glad I have the gym, Morning Joe and you to accompany me on this new exercise program.

Written by: Nancy Sylvester, IHM

© 2012 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue

Reprint with permission

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