In December, the Dalai Lama spoke during the Emory-Tibet Symposium of Scholars and Scientists at the Drepung Monastic University in India. According to Atlanta-based Emory University, "the ultimate goal of the symposium is to build a bridge between two complementary systems of knowledge."
Why am I quoting the Emory-Tibet Symposium? Because of what the Dalai Lama said there, in an interview with CNN. Although His Holiness considers America the "leading nation of the free world," the Dalai Lama also acknowledged that our country is a democracy where the "power is divided."
Yes, ours is a country divided - rather than shared - in which a lot of people are angry, a lot of other people are angry at the people getting angry, and civility seems to be a veneer stretched too thin on both sides to conceal the contempt and derision below.
His Holiness had offered some advice for finding equilibrium in any situation: self-compassion. As opposed to self-esteem or self-respect, self-compassion is defined by some scholars as open to and touched by our own troubles, worries or fears, and yet not avoiding them or disconnecting from them. An important piece of self-compassion is to be nonjudgmental about what is causing us pain, even when we mess up or are experiencing some other form of emotional pain.
In our divided world, we are beyond judgmental with each other. We are vitriolic in our name-calling, our shaming, our senses of entitlement. We are so certain of our own beliefs that anyone - and I mean anyone - who stands for an opposing viewpoint becomes a target of scorn and hate. The divisions are sharp, wide, deep. No wonder so many of us feel a bit battered, bruised.
In the interview, His Holiness said that, basically, "nothing exists as it appears," and I'm reminded of a graphic I saw of an intersection where a car, a bicycle and a pedestrian appear to be on a collision course. Thought bubbles tell us what's going on for each. To paraphrase, the woman at the wheel of the car is fretting because her child is sick and she had to leave work. The person on the bike is wondering where next month's rent will come from, and the pedestrian is preoccupied with his own medical problem. They are unaware, of course, of each other's struggles.
Each of us faces our own battles, every day. So this means that everyone else we meet or interact with or email or text or, or, or ... is also fighting some sort of battle, that may or may not have anything to do with political divisions.
I'm not sure which needs to come first, though, compassion for self or compassion for others, in which we are touched by someone else's suffering, we are aware of their pain, and we are not judging them. Clearly, neither is easy, or we'd all be fine all the time!
It is possible for us in America to "build a bridge between two complementary systems of knowledge"? Can we practice compassion, including self-compassion, for better understanding of the other sides of the divide?
For my part, starting this weekend - oh, mercy, starting right now! - I'm going to practice self-compassion. If it's good for the Dalai Lama, it is definitely good for me!
Andrea Doray is a writer who finds that it really does take work ... and that's why it's called practice! Contact her at email@example.com.