This article was first published by the Albany Times Union.
Politicians should work toward nurturing the ability to comfortably shift our understanding of others
by KRISTIN CHRISTMAN
Bombast, insults, shallow courtesy, authentic unkindness, corporate donations, lavish spending, rancorous debates: When observing presidential candidates, do you feel you’re witnessing the best democracy has to offer? Ideal human qualities? Or just the opposite?
Where, for instance, is love?
Oh! A bad word in politics! Love rattles politicians’ anxious determination to be tough. Love sounds soft, feminine. More bad words.
In my mind’s eye I clearly see an autumn day at the park 12 years ago. My son had found a little wasp, struggling upside down in a pool of water on a slide. We watched it caringly, intending to help if needed, and suddenly, to my son’s great joy, the wasp turned over and crawled out of the pool — alive! We were elated, and my son happily began conversing with the wasp.
A father and his children approached. We explained to him to be caring toward the weary wasp we loved. But then, frozen in disbelief, we stared as he raised his massive boot and stomped it to death.
Flash! My mind flashed to all those men in Washington, dropping bombs on Afghanistan and Iraq to rescue us from danger. Are we women and children expected to be grateful?
Some of us don’t want their rescue. We want those men to leave those people alone. We would rather make friends, not corpses. Yes, dangers are there, but so are possibilities of friendship. Why focus solely on the stinger?
Love is a quality of cherishing others, a strong, joyful feeling in one’s eyes and chest; you recognize and help the goodness in others’ spirits emerge; you care about their ideas, hopes, and fears. Courage, like its Latin derivation, comes from the heart, not the fist, because courage gives us the heart’s perspective to not just see the stinger, but to appreciate the entire living being.
Amplifying love’s role in foreign policy does not involve being romantic, dreamy, duped, conquered, or unaware of other factors necessary for peace. Amplifying love’s role involves shedding naive beliefs in the false magic of threats, hatred, weapons, self-centered wealth, and one-sided triumph.
Many of us are impressed, not by threats, but by those with courage to alleviate others’ fears as well as our own and to care for all sides of conflict with 360-degree compassion. What would such love look like in foreign policy? No, not a group hug, as some mock.
Here’s 360-degree love: Iran and the nine nuclear powers all eliminate their nuclear weapon manufacturing abilities and stockpiles, refrain from nuclear power, rely upon solar, wind, and muscle power, and respect the inalienable right of all to live without threats of daily radioactive leaks, wastes, and bombs.
Love, not hatred, nurtures the warmth and security necessary to comfortably shift perspectives and understand others.
Here’s love: Instead of hatefully scapegoating Mexican immigrants, Mexican and U.S. leaders help us step inside the shoes of Mexicans protesting meager wages, immigrants fleeing malnutrition and kidnapping, Americans fearing job loss, U.S. investors in Mexican oil and agribusiness, impoverished Mexican farmers, U.S. drug users, Mexican drug kingpins, U.S. weapons companies supplying Mexico, grieving Mexican peasants, Mexicans begging the U.S. to stop sending weapons. We get inside all those shoes.
Love, not weapons, fosters the calm reason necessary to analyze cause and effect.
Here’s love: U.S. and Mexican leaders publicly discuss the effects on poverty, democracy, emigration, drugs, and death of decades of U.S. weapons shipments to Mexico, of collusion among Mexican politicians, police, military, and drug cartels, of drug money laundering by multinational banks without prosecution of employees.
Love, not wealth, creates depth in connectedness. If you look at the woods, fields, and people and merely see woods, fields, and people, they are flat to you; nothing deep is evoked in your heart. It is then easier to chop down the trees, smear the field with asphalt, and cheat the people. But if you feel something in them, a spirit or heart, their depth to you far exceeds their market value, and you acquire depth yourself.
Here’s love: U.S. and Mexican leaders publicly evaluate the fallout from the U.S. seizing nearly one-half of Mexico by 1848, CIA and FBI destabilization efforts against Mexican leaders who supported labor, land reform, and a New International Economic Order, and the century-old U.S. priority of protecting investments abroad. Affluent Mexicans and influential American dynasties who profited from Mexican labor, oil, agribusiness, drugs, or militarism use those profits to help Mexican immigrants and to augment wages, redistribute land, and fund solar energy in Mexico.
Love is placing one’s consciousness in the heart, radiating loving strength to all, and beaming it outwards like a beacon. It is more important to spread this love than to spread democracy, capitalism, socialism, Islam or Christianity.
Efforts by peace and religious groups have proven it stunningly possible to retrain humans from their hateful biases and uncover instincts for radiating this love and making friends. Jewish and Palestinian, Tamil and Sinhalese, Russian and American — these traditional enemies have become close enough to never want to hurt each other.
And that’s the key right there. Instead of harnessing people to extinguish their hearts and spirits and reduce them to fighting machines, torture victims, wealth worshippers, wage slaves, drug pushers, or addicts, we must nurture the instinct to connect with the depth in others as friends, for the real conflict is not this side vs. that side, but love vs. its absence.