Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Love Trumps All

Three guiding principles for a leadership with love: seek to understand, be kind, and be the change you want to see.

November 9th I woke to an unexpected flood of sadness, despair and fatigue. My calendar told me I was chalk full of appointments but I decided to clear the day and spend it in contemplation.  No email, no calls, no meetings. Just the quiet of each moment, bringing my mind back to drop into the feelings passing, the thoughts arising, the breath rising and falling.

It is so easy to fall into the pit of depression and hopelessness. It is part of who we are to have a grief response to something that is lost. Just as it is part of who we are to be divisive, angry and hateful.  It is also part of who we are to be cooperative, caring and loving.
We get to choose which aspects of our nature we develop.  

Three guiding principles came to me after my day of contemplation. These three I share with you.

Seek to understand
Don't gather strength to fight harder.  Do not coalesce to get stronger against another philosophy, party or people. Instead open up and listen to the other side - the side you see as the enemy, or misguided and mistaken. Have the strength to soften. Develop your capacity to open up and listen. Seek to understand.  

If someone in your family voted for the party you resolutely disagree with, take time this holiday season to listen to why they voted that way. (If you can't find someone in your family, look to your family-in-law or ex-family-in-law, or friend's family...somewhere you will find someone linked to you with whom you do not agree with politically). Ask questions to get to the heart of the needs they are trying to fulfill in their own life and hopes they aspire for the future. Keep asking until you can find something in common and something that opens your heart to their perspective. If talking face to face is too hard a first step, read the facebook posts of a friend of a friend or family member who is for everything you are against. Develop your capacity to listen and understand until you can take bigger bites.

This does not mean you should allow yourself to be verbally abused, yelled at or ridiculed. But it does mean you can listen without judgment, without intent to change or challenge anyone. Listening to understanding has a profound effect on the person who feels heard and understood, and, like spending a good chunk of time in contemplation, on you. Trust in yourself, in your own values and in your natural ability to develop wisdom by listening.

Be Kind. Love trumps all. 
Each of our actions has a ripple effect, just because that is the nature of actions and reactions. Everyday people are committing acts of kindness that never get in the news, but have untold far-ranging effects. So you can choose to be your own good act generator, and make a difference in your neighborhood, office, home, and anywhere else.  

Try to do something unexpected and kind everyday. Compliment a stranger or buy someone a coffee in the line behind you (that is a famous and much loved random act of kindness). On your commute. give a car trying to merge enough space to get in easily. Hold the door open for the person behind you or who is going in the opposite direction. Spend 30 minutes of unstructured focused time with a child in your life. Do the same with your friend, partner or relative.  Join your neighborhood's "Buy Nothing (name of your neighborhood)" or "Nextdoor (name of your neighborhood)" and give away a batch of cookies, one hour of gardening or some other service for free to a stranger in our neighborhood.  

As you develop your kindness muscle, go for the harder things.  Give a gift to someone you don't like.  Say something really nice (and true) about someone you have a grudge against. 

One of the hardest ways to be kind is to be kind to oneself.  Count catching yourself when thoughts of worthlessness or self-hatred arise and noticing these as an act of kindness. Count replying to these thoughts with a feeling of love for yourself as a really big act of kindness. 

As your acts of kindness accumulate over the days, feel good about the good feelings that grow in you. Take the time to stop and drop into the goodness of you. This too is an act of kindness, and has a ripple effect. 

Be the change you want to see.  
This old old saying is never truer than when we are in the midst of all we do not want.  Jung said "what you resist, persists." Positive psychology research tells us to focus on our strengths. There is also a Native American teaching that the best way to parent is to be the adult you want your children to be. All of these adages add up to being the change you want to see.  

That said, Mark Twain said "Few things are harder to bear than the annoyance of a good example." Being the change you want to see does not mean trying to change others. It comes from knowing your true self and letting it shine through.  

In how you treat others, in how you treat yourself, in how you participate as a citizen, be the change you want to see. If you wished for a different outcome from the one we had November 8th,  find a way to be part of the change you wish to happen.  It may be by showing up at meetings held by your local policy makers, signing up for your local party and elected official's newsletters - and reading the news; volunteering for an initiative or on a campaign. A quick search "how to get involved in local politics (your city or region name)"  will give you avenues and ways to get involved.

For my part, I will keep doing the work I do to help make the world a better place, and help bring about a transformation of our system from money-based to happiness, wellbeing and sustainability based. But after this election, I am getting more involved in the democratic process in my town, and I will hold myself to an act of kindness each day and contemplating those acts; and I am looking forward to listening to those people in my family-in-law and learning about that which I do not yet understand. 

Written by Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of the Happiness Alliance