Just before the election, I had an unexpected—and unusual for me—interaction with someone on Facebook that reflected something we’ve all seen emerge over time. It seems that differences of opinion are now taken as attacks. One of the disheartening dynamics that I’ve seen again and again on Facebook, and more and more in mainstream media, is a willingness, even a seeming eagerness, to insult people with whom we disagree.
This got me to thinking about how permission is constantly granted by what we see going on around us. In research on “bystanders” in any kind of event, when one or two people jump in to help (or to hurt), others begin to respond in a similar way. I’ve never forgotten this research, and I think that knowing it elicits choice points along the way as I move through daily life. For example, if I see someone who needs help, I do my best to respond. It may be something as simple as opening a door for someone who is pushing a stroller, or giving a homeless person money as I pass by. It may be responding respectfully is someone bumps into me, or moving out of the way with a smile to allow someone to pass if they seem not to be noticing that I’m right in front of them.
Because of my belief in collective consciousness, I also track my internal attitude toward these encounters and do my best to keep my heart open. I do this because I believe that our thoughts, feelings, fantasies, and self-talk—the qualities these things emanate—reach into our collective consciousness environment, adding to the collective expression of good will or diminishing it. This relates to Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of “morphic resonance”, where what individuals learn and do becomes accessible to all the members of their species.
I also ask myself to remember that the other person, whoever he or she may be, is reacting and responding from their own internal map of the world, from their own conditioning and understanding about themselves and their environment. In relation to this, I deeply appreciate the Buddhist concept of lovingkindness, where there’s an acknowledgment that all beings seek to be free from suffering and to be happy. I carry this with me when I encounter someone who treats me with disrespect, even as I also may respond in ways that seek to counter what that person is doing.
For this week’s experiment, I invite you to be aware of how respectful—or not—you are with people as you move through your daily life. This includes the customer service and tech support folks you talk to on the phone. Each day offers countless opportunities to tune into respectful communication, and countless challenges to remember to respond with respect even when you’re irritated, or the other person is being uncooperative.
It helps to remember that disagreement is not the same as attack, even though mainstream and social media seem to promote a style that seems to ignore how hurtful it is to insult others. So, as part of this experiment, when you find yourself disagreeing with someone, take a moment to remember that they’ve arrived at their opinion because of their experience, sources of information, and underlying beliefs. Notice what happens if you tap into curiosity as to how they arrived at what they are saying, rather than first focusing on why you think they are wrong.
As with all these experiments, there are no right answers here. The opportunity in this one is to be even more curious than you may already be about the ways in which you encounter and move through your world, in relation to people with whom you disagree about major issues. This doesn’t mean not to work for what you believe in, and it doesn’t mean to be silent if someone is saying or doing things that feel fundamentally wrong to you. What it offers is one more opportunity to notice how you contribute to the quality of your everyday life and that you have some choice in how you respond to your thoughts, feelings, and impulses as you move through your daily activities.