Back in September, in the weeks immediately following Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and Florida, we witnessed the incredible power of community. Neighbors came together to help one another in the aftermath; strangers showed up to assist with cleanup and rebuilding, and millions more made financial donations to aid victims. Any personal differences were effectively cast aside in the spirit of support and love.
It was inspiring to see so much positive action coming out of such devastating circumstances. It reminded me of how much stronger we are together than we are as individuals, and of the potential for meaningful progress when we’re able to withhold our judgments.
But then it also made me wonder why this doesn’t translate in our everyday lives: Why does it seem to take extreme circumstances to unite us? And what if something as simple as forgiveness could help us move beyond simmering animosities and toward acceptance?
In day-to-day life, disparities can elicit separation, as many struggle to find common ground and understanding. Negative perceptions about the “other” — groups or individuals with whom we disagree or believe are different from us — drive some people apart. As these mindsets take hold, the energy becomes contagious and the beliefs spread.
This comes with real implications for both individual and cultural health. As someone who’s deeply committed to healthy living, I think this is critically important.
Carrying the stress created by all these negative emotions and beliefs affects us at a cellular level, with the potential to literally make us sick. Piles of research over the past few years have linked chronic inflammation to a wide range of conditions, including digestive issues, heart disease, depression, and anxiety. (Experience Life has covered the effects of stress extensively; if you’re interested in reading more about this, visit ExperienceLife.com.)
So how do we move beyond the negative mindsets that can make us unhealthy and drive us apart, to finding the kind of selflessness we saw in the wake of Harvey and Irma?
I believe each of us must be willing to reflect on and challenge our own beliefs and biases, and, ultimately, find ways to understand and forgive.
For some people, that might mean having honest conversations with those who hold conflicting views in an effort to see the other side and get a fresh perspective. For others, it might be intentionally redirecting their attention on finding anything that’s positive when negative emotions come up. If you feel annoyed every time you see the neighbor whose trash can is always overflowing, can you call to mind how you felt the time she surprised you with tomatoes from her garden? Or can you focus on how much fun it is to play poker with your brother rather than arguing again about your opposing political views?
Maybe it’s removing yourself from a trigger situation to take a few deep breaths so you can return with a thoughtful response or action. Or perhaps it’s simply getting real with yourself about the true costs of carrying so much anger, resentment, hate, fear — is it worth it, or is it time to direct that energy elsewhere?
In finding a state of neutrality, and even love, it becomes easier to accept and forgive — even if you never find common ground. And in the act of forgiving, the forgiver benefits more than the forgiven, who may not even be aware of your issues with them. When you can truly let go of negativity toward someone or about a set of beliefs, there’s a deep sense of cleansing and healing that happens, both physically and emotionally.
With a healthier, more open-minded perspective, you can begin to spread the kind of compassion, positivity, and love that brings people together. And that’s the kind of contagious behavior we need more of every day, not just after extreme acts of Mother Nature.