Only Us: Beyond Republican and Democrat

November 3, 2012   |   51 Comments  |   FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites

As you may know, I am a writer and blogger. I have written six books and send out a newsletter twice a week to my list of nearly 10000 subscribers. My topics include meditation, creativity, and relationships. I’m fortunate to have an active, caring audience and when I upload a post, it may get 10 to 100 comments, depending on the topic. Most of the comments, if I may say, are some expression of gratitude because the reader has found this work useful. Occasionally, of course, someone will really disagree with me. Comments such as, “I can’t believe you think something so strange, but to each his own,” or “This post is misleading, please be more responsible in the future” are not unheard of. Being called a “self-absorbed navel-gazer” (which is probably true) is considered a vicious insult on my site.

However, a post I wrote on May 2, 2011 went viral and garnered thousands of comments, many of which were filled with vitriol and ridicule. “You are destroying our country, you f**king idiot,” “If you spent one day in the real world, you would probably get killed—good riddance.” And my favorite: “If these baboons had gotten their hands on nuclear weapons—you wouldn’t be sitting at your pretty little Mac going on about how conflicted you are.” (I am a Mac user—how did they know?!)

The post in question was called “Compassion for our Enemies.” It was published the day Osama Bin Laden was killed. In it, I thought I was being very clear that my argument was NOT with Bin Laden’s assassination but with our reaction to it—that if we treated it as some kind of touchdown boo-yah moment, we were strengthening the conditions that lead to more death and destruction, our own or others’. As we hold our victory with a sense of vengefulness, we create such vengefulness in our enemy. Thus it behooves us to actually care about them. In fact, there is no “them.” There is only “us.”

Apparently, this was an incendiary and absurd position to take.

Now it is election season in the US. It is almost impossible to avoid us-and-them thinking. The truth is, I want my candidate to win so badly. Anyone who wants the other candidate frightens me. They feel the same about me.

Half the people in our beloved country are saying about the other half, “How can anyone possibly think that way?” and “Those people are going to be the ruination of us.” We are pitted against each other, brother against brother. One side sees the other as socialist, elitist, un-American snobs who are at the very least utterly deluded or as ignorant, fundamentalist, uneducated hicks who are at the very least utterly deluded. Each side can come up with charts and graphs to demonstrate its own truths, beyond question.

Many (but not all) of our politicians encourage us to see each other in these ways and bank on our votes to be based on fear and ridicule rather than belief and devotion to country. They hope to win by causing us to fear, doubt, and dehumanize each other.

We do not have to do this.

When one side wins the election on November 6, the other side will lose. That’s just the way it is and I have no problem with that. We’re not always going to agree with each other. But it is our reaction to each other at the point of winning or losing that spells out our future more so than any policies of the winning side.

Right now, we have a chance to take a view that is so much larger than Obama or Romney, Us or Them, My Way or The Highway. Without budging an inch in what we believe and whom we support, we could take a moment, just a millisecond, to imagine that the “other” side feels as much passion, despair, longing, and fear about the election as we do. We could care about each other, American to American. As winners, we could seek ways to include the losers as we go forward rather than further ostracize them. As losers, we could redouble our efforts to fight for what we believe in from a sense of love for this country rather than hatred for the victors.

In these attitude shifts, even if we can only hold on to them for a moment, everything is possible. We could at least try.

When I touch in with the “truth” of my position, I feel hard and unforgiving. I hate other people. I find that I have enemies. When I touch in with my longing for our country to be a haven for goodness, decency, and tolerance, I feel sad. I see this sadness in everyone. I find that I have fellow travelers.

There is a Native American parable that goes something like this:

A Cherokee chief was teaching a young man about life. “There is a fight going on inside of me,” he said. “There are two wolves. One is full of rage, vengefulness, jealousy, and hate. The other is full of kindness, wisdom, and humility.” “Which wolf will win?” wondered the young man. “The one I feed,” said the old chief.

When we choose to nourish wolf number 2, we are not simply choosing what is righteous or morally superior. We are choosing the only path that leads to the kind of world we all want to live in, one where people are kind to each other, help out in times of need, celebrate victories and mourn losses with a sense of humbleness, and maintain a powerful sense of inner balance that enables us to hold these qualities through good times and bad.

You might wonder to yourself, but how can I be this open and generous in a world that is not? Well, somebody has got to go first. I vote for you.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.

Lao Tzu

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  • Posted by:  Meghan Bohardt

    I remember reading your newsletter that day after they assassinated Osama Bin Laden. I found your words to be very courageous and heartening, in true bodichitta-style. After that reports of the “success” of the Osama mission, I too felt that the way that the US slayed its enemies was severely misguided and pernicious. Why is it that we only come together as a nation when someone gets killed or some other catastrophe happens? Anyways, I hope you know that for all of those who will not be able to understand your point of view and will ridicule you, there are many more of us who will applaud you and share your point of view. Thank you for your post today. I appreciate what you have said here about putting ourselves in the places of our “enemies”, for they are just like “us”. This is important to remember now in these tense times of the election, and everyday that we encounter someone who we don’t agree with. What I appreciate most, though, is that you don’t offer some wishy-washy advise to regard everyone as the same and that our differences don’t matter. What I am taking away from this is that we don’t have to condone the actions or the positions of the other side, but we should remember their humanity and their basic goodness. Thank you, Susan, for creating a space to discuss these things, and for having the bravery to speak your mind.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Oh, Meghan. Thank you, thank you for this comment which heartens and inspires me. Love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Kimberley McGill

    I admire your courage and the beautiful way in which you write and express yourself. I too hope we can find a way to come together as a nation and am mindful of my own words and actions. Sometimes they are less than what I intended. It’s been a precarious balance for me to maintain my political voice, one many women fought for long before I born, and not joining in the fray of at the very least snark and at the worst the kind of ugliness and hurts the spirit. I thank you for these words and am grateful that I have chosen to be a part of the Open Heart Project. You are much loved and respected.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Thank you, Kimberley. I am also grateful for our community and for your kind regard. It means so much! Love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Amelia

    Peace, Susan. I would also like to echo the encouragement left by Kimberly and Meghan. Whether your candidate (who might just also be my candidate) wins or loses, we are all still living together in this country unless we defect to Canada or Costa Rica or France or Tanzania, and it’s still one of the richest places in the world. I’d like to stay present with the rest of “us” and weather the political climate, whatever it may be. Thank you for your courage!

    • Posted by:  susan

      Glad to know we’re in this together.

  • Posted by:  Maia Duerr/Liberated Life Project

    Susan, this post is a wonderful gift of peacemaking, dropped into the midst of a very divisive and polarizing time in our country. Thank you so much for writing it… I love how the Native American story about the two wolves and the quote from Lao Tzu bring the point home so powerfully.

    For what it’s worth, I really believe that our natural inclination is actually not to fight against each other but to support each other’s survival and capacity to thrive. Sort of like the concept of “basic goodness” in the Shambhala tradition. However, there are forces at work (often connected to power structures such as global capitalism and the politicians who are indebted to it for their existence) that set us up against each other. I believe that most Republicans and Democrats have far more in common than we are led to believe, and that for most of us, our essential values are the same.

    Pieces of writing like yours can help us return to that place of basic sanity and connect with each other across differences. Again, thank you so much for this.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Maia, you are so welcome. I know we are both working on behalf of “us.”

  • Posted by:  Jennie

    This is just perfect, Susan. Thank you!

    • Posted by:  susan

      You are so welcome.

  • Posted by:  KCLAnderson (Karen)

    Yes to everything you said. I strive to live this and when I find myself slipping, I strive to catch myself sooner. I sometimes find myself disagreeing with someone not because of the point they are trying to make (with which I may very well agree) but because of the way they are trying to make it (name calling, shaming, etc.).

    Another interesting way of looking at conflict is made in the book, The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. He says, “Arguments and conflict are caused by two people (or two groups, or two countries) racing to occupy the victim position in a relationship.”

    At first you might think, “Wait a minute, when there’s a conflict, one side is trying to occupy the power position, not the victim position.”

    Hendricks goes on to say, “…in essence, the conflict arises because each side must present an escalating series of proof that he or she (or it) is the real victim. Understanding the physics of arguments reveals how conflicts can be resolved. Each entity in a situation must accept 100% of the responsibility for both the cause and the solution. The mistake is in thinking that there is 100% of responsibility to be divided up; this approach requires each side to take some portion of the 100%, which causes problems because it leads to endless jockeying for the victim position.”

    Talk about a paradigm shift. Whether in conflict with someone else or even with oneself, resolving it, if that’s what is desired, requires that both “sides” take 100% responsibility for it.

    • Posted by:  susan

      This is very interesting, Karen. Passive aggression is as real as aggression aggression! And I really agree with the notion that everyone has to take responsibility for everything. Thanks so much for postin.

  • Posted by:  Meena Modi

    It is hard not to be affected by vitriolic reactions to what we write. But it can also help us test and examine our beliefs from various perspectives. What is truth? Is it really our conditioned, programmed thinking and personal world view.

    For us, hatred and anger are not the most wise reactions/responses to hatred and violence. It is a sign of great strength, not weakness. Hatred, violence, anger are all toxic corrosives that consume the people who feed and nurture them. They destroy societies. After all, who are we fighting but our own selves? It does not have to mean passively relinquishing what we hold to be true. It can mean acting anchored in peace and not in the grip of negativity.

    It is heartening to know that there are all of you out there steadfastly choosing active peace and compassion.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Amen to that.

  • Posted by:  Bill

    I didn’t know of anyone who had the brains and courage to at least state that finding one’s opposition to be human, intelligent and rational might be a good idea. For all the talk of love of the man from Nazareth, there seems little recognition of the the value of such an approach. I found this blog thru the short link you posted on Twitter and I am glad I did. I only know your excellent little “Quiet Mind” book but you seem to be at one with your smarts, your language and the contributions you can make to the world. Good work and I hope lots more of it.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Thank you, Bill. Very glad to know you and also to know that we have a shared point of view.

  • Posted by:  Janis Irvin

    we keep feeding the gentle spirits with nourishing kindness to our best ability. thats all there is to do.

    • Posted by:  susan

      amen to that, too

  • Posted by:  Cheri

    I love this post. Unlike you, I don’t have a candidate that I really want to win. I will vote, but I can’t get totally behind either one of them this year. There are issues in each of their platforms that I agree with and support, as well as issues in each of their platforms that I totally disagree with and can’t support. Where is the party for those of us that live in the middle?? What I’ve found in this very conflicted state is that I can understand and have compassion for both sides, their beliefs (even the ones I don’t agree with), and their passion for what they believe in. Where I get drawn up short is with those who are arrogant enough to think that if I believe differently I am stupid or deluded or pick your adjective. In a country that was founded on freedom of religion and separation of church and state, we all need to be more tolerant of other’s viewpoints – even the ones we don’t agree with.

    Keep writing Susan! I really appreciate what you have to say!

    • Posted by:  susan

      Cheri, I know what you mean. It is so hard to have any kind feelings when someone thinks you are stupid. Definitely! I think that it is totally fine, I tell myself, to get really upset about this. What is not ok is to think that I am any different than they are.

      Very glad to have this dialog with you!

  • Posted by:  Eliot Vestner

    Dear Susan. What a good piece you wrote! I both agree (how could one not agree?) and disagree. I wish I had seen the earlier piece you describe and the responses to it. You’re a brave lady.

    My mother used to say to me “It’s wonderful to be open-minded. But don’t be so open-minded your brains fall out.” I share your sentiment, that we need to understand the deep emotions that fuel people who disagree with us, rise above the simple “us vs. them,” and move on. It is equally important, if not more so, to call a spade a spade. If the Republican Party puts forth destructive positions, it’s important to say so, and back it up with work and contributions to defeat that party (In the past I have at times felt the same way about the Democrats). That, I believe, is where we are today–a conflict over fundamental values.

    And we’ve been there in the past. The elections of 1800, 1860, 1896 were all viewed as the final battle of Armageddon; the forces of good arrayed on the battlefield against the forces of evil. The language used to describe the other side was much worse than we have seen this year. We somehow survived each of those elections (in one, we had to fight a bloody war to survive it) and we’ll survive this one. But in each case, people felt passionately and there was no give, no truth in the other side. That’s just inevitable, and you can’t avoid it by talk of sweetness and light.

    I think you are spot on about the reaction to the killing of Osama. It did remind me of the dance guys do in the end zone after a touchdown; Killing another human being is very serious business; it shouldn’t be treated like a touchdown.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Eliot, this is a very interesting comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to post it. I agree with what you agree with AND what you disagree with. A friend of mine said it really well in his blog post on the coming election:

      “Yet, while not separating ourselves from others, while not villifying a “Them,” our practice DEMANDS that we also identify false views and work to overcome them. Simply put, all beings are equal, but all views are not. Our society, sadly, runs on a set of false views that are way past their day. The archaic view of selfishness and isolation has to be identified and argued against, in ourselves, in others, and in our social systems, because false views have true consequences.” Ethan Nichtern.

      And it is good to know that this extreme partisanship is not being encountered for the first time, and that our country has survived it in the past. I know that no talk of sweetness and life can tip the balance, but, to me, there is nothing sweet about trying to make room for opposing views. It takes so much strength and character to do this. Hopefully we will discover this together, as a nation.

      I love that you commented!! Thank you.

  • Posted by:  Marianne

    This is not the easy path. When I was living and working in Afghanistan I chose to commit to the practice of finding compassion for the warlords and druglords. Many people were horrified because they thought that meant accepting or condoning their actions. To me it meant understanding that they are human too, and that as long as they suffer I suffer too. I’m grateful to know that you are out there Susan, committed to this same path even when it is hard – both internally and externally.

    • Posted by:  susan

      You of all the people I know understand how difficult–and necessary–this is.

  • Posted by:  Ted

    Thanks Susan. This is a wonderful reminder on how meditation and compassion relate to the real world, that it’s not just theory.

    (PS I loved the piece you wrote after the killing of Bin Laden, and was SO grateful to read that I wasn’t alone in my sentiments.)

    One area that I find myself struggling with is a belief that if “their” guy wins, he will inflict grave damage on the world: start devastating wars; reduce help for those in need; turn national parks into shopping malls etc.. (I didn’t say I was rational!)

    I try to roll with it, remind myself that there are warm, sunny days and there are devastating stormy days, but it’s easy to fall back into the fear.

    Sadly, I also feel that no matter who wins, we will all will still “lose” in some way or other: Politics are not the domain of compassion and thoughtfulness. Although, strangely, this then gives me some peace: I may have some control over my own actions, but even with a vote, I can’t control my country.

    Anyway, thank you for this wonderful reminder. Once again, you’ve shown me something beautiful. 🙂

    • Posted by:  susan

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece, Ted. And I don’t think you need to like “their” guy or believe in his policies in any way. We just can’t start viewing “them” as any different from us…or at least try not to…

      Good luck navigating tomorrow!

  • Posted by:  Sherry Smyth

    As a Canadian I sit on the sidelines and I watch what happens in the US when there is an election and I marvel at how “each side” treats the other. I watch my Facebook feed and I see people attacking each other for what they believe. And I wonder why? What purpose is served in that?

    Your political system and electoral system is different to ours and while we all believe that our candidate is “the one”, these types of brother bashing brother scenarios rarely happen here in Canada, if at all. Certainly not to the extent I see in the US.

    It disturbs me so that I’ve stopped looking at anything political and I look forward to your election being over (keeping in mind that whatever happens in your country will affect mine — it always does. That is a truth). I do know how I hope this election concludes because of what it will mean not just for your country but for mine.

    What I really wanted to say Susan is thank you. Thank you for voicing what I believe many people feel and doing it so eloquently.

    • Posted by:  susan

      You are very welcome, Sherry.

      We are certainly all in this together–

  • Posted by:  Jen Young

    Thank you for this post, Susan! I feel that same sense of sadness in longing for a better country. Great reminder to live Gandhi’s words, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

    • Posted by:  susan


  • Posted by:  Heather Jadot

    Susan, thank you for sharing your wise and compassionate heart. I too long to feed the 2nd wolf. It starts with me and my person passing on intentional goodness and pausing long enough in my thoughts before they become actions.

    • Posted by:  susan

      I really agree with you Heather–

  • Posted by:  Jude Martin

    This is lovely, but it goes straight to my head. I really, really urge you to consider offering your Open Heart meditation sent out today on this blog so that we can share it with others. It touched me so deeply! AND, I think everyone is so hungry for words like the meditation right now.
    Thanks you for your beautiful heart !!

    • Posted by:  susan

      I would be happy to, Jude. Thanks for suggesting. Here is the link:

      So glad this video touched you. That means a lot to me.

  • Posted by:  Carola Bartz

    This is the second post today I read on this topic, and it has the same message – love and peace. I am a European living in the US, not allowed to vote, but very interested in the politics of this country. The election system, the campaigns, the behaviour regarding politics very often is completely foreign to me. I don’t get the hate, the belittling and ridiculing of someone who thinks differently. After all, we’re all in this together. Kudos to your courage to write about this. Thank you.

    • Posted by:  susan

      You are very welcome, Carola. I also don’t get the hate and so on…we are all in this together, just as you say…

  • Posted by:  Mirella

    Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom.

    • Posted by:  susan

      You are so welcome, Mirella.

  • Posted by:  mary

    well put Susan. I for one was so heartened by your words regarding the gleeful response to bin-Ladens killing. A voice of sanity. Yes we are all in this together.

    • Posted by:  susan

      So glad!

  • Posted by:  Mary Lou

    I found myself looking for a sense of calm tonight. Somehow, I clicked into this blog post! Perfect for me at this moment. I appreciate knowing that there are others who are seeking to experience this election in ways that allow the best of being human to shine through.

    This election cycle has given me pause and opportunity to practice allowing, and trust, and my sense of knowing that all is really well. Just when I thought I knew how to stay in balance, another phone call, or mailing, or commercial triggered a “them” set of emotions.

    So, I’m doing my practice and trusting the process and very much appreciate your writings!

    • Posted by:  susan

      Glad! And practice is always helpful…

  • Posted by:  David Vos

    Susan thanks for your continued generosity and vivid teaching, such gifts to a world that needs sanity in any and all forms.

    BTW, while I’m relieved no baboons got their hands on nuclear weapons, it does make for a giddy image, no?

    • Posted by:  susan

      it does!!

  • Posted by:  Joe

    As Thich Nhat Hahn says “there is no left without the right…we should not wish for the destruction of the right as without them we cannot be…” or something like that 😉

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