Of course, like most other tightly wound moments in the course of human history, this is also a time when it’s more important than ever for us to seek out some common ground — not just a semblance of feel-good unity, but an authentic respect for perspectives and priorities that others hold dear — even if we heartily disagree with their opinions and their approach.
I’m not saying that we should all just magically get along or agree. But do we really earn any more appreciation for our way of seeing things when we insist on ranting and raving at each other, when we invest more time and energy in drowning out or insulting the “other side” than we do in seeking to understand perspectives different than our own? Do we accomplish more of the changes we want to see in the world by engaging in mutual ridicule and accusation with those who are invested in something other than what we think is best?
The turn of the New Year is a good time to reflect on how each of us can seek out more open and neutral territory — or at least more mutual tolerance — with those who see things differently than we do (for pointers on that, see “On the Other Side of Right” in the March 2007 archives).
It’s also a good time to cultivate the equanimity that comes with accepting that we will never convince most people who think they are right that they are, in fact, wrong. We will never make unfair things fair by merely bemoaning their unfairness, nor will we make wrong things right by bemoaning their wrongness. There are far better ways for us to spend our time, passion, creativity and will — and we’d do well to embrace them rather than wearing ourselves thin in frustration, righteousness or frantic despair.
It is perhaps human nature to get some satisfaction out of battling and besting each other by whatever means available. But the math geniuses who revealed the logical patterns behind game theory have demonstrated that we actually succeed more often (and enjoy more rewards) when we find ways to collaborate and collect on the “bigger win” that usually accompanies common goals.
I’ve read a variety of science stories recently that expose the negative biochemical effects of hostility, both on hostile people themselves and on those who receive the brunt of their aggression. I am struck by what a clear and concrete demonstration this is — right down to the glandular, cellular level — of how what hurts or insults one of us generally hurts us all.
Of course, the opposite is also true. We’ve all seen time and time again how acts of kindness, compassion and generosity benefit both the benefactors and the recipients of said goodness (for more on that, see “For a Good Cause” in the January/February 2002 archives).
With this in mind, and with all our personal goals and objectives up for review as we head into the coming year, I invite you to join me in considering one additional priority: the pursuit of just a little more unity, and a little more generosity of spirit.
What if, in honor of the New Year, we all set the intention of spending less of our energy trying to undermine, criticize or be a thorn in the sides of others? What if, instead, we made a renewed effort toward treating all those in our midst with civility and respect? I think we all stand to benefit from keeping an open mind to the fact that we may not always be quite as right as we think we are, and that others may not be quite as wrong.
In the process, we’ll give ourselves and all those we care about the gift of more daily peace and harmony — and more confidence that, by working together, we stand a much stronger chance of making the world a better and more beautiful place.