One Nation Indivisible

“One nation indivisible.” These words from the flag salute, written after all the divisiveness of the Civil War, hold a vision that again seems far beyond reach.

One of my friends said recently that he fears we are more divided now than even during the Civil War. Perhaps he is right. We cannot even agree on what is true, or on what is an accurate source of truth. “Alternative facts” and “fake news” are daily bywords. Family members on different sides of the divide fear to talk with each other. Our government is hog-tied, unable to function in a world where many crucial issues cry out to be addressed. It is a wound in our nation.

I recently listened to an interview with George Lakoff, linguist and cognitive scientist. He spoke of the way our beliefs and worldviews are held not only in our intellect, but imbedded in our neurocircuitry, embodied in our flesh. anger

After forty plus years of practicing Rolfing and studying the body language of my clients, I can certainly agree with him. The hopes and fears of my clients speak clearly through the gait, the angle of the head, the stiffness or fluidity of the spine, the way the chest is held, open or protected, and many other signals.

These beliefs, opinions about what is right and good, the worldview of a person are so strongly entrenched, that, as Lakoff said, “if information comes in that doesn’t fit, it’ll either be not noticed, ignored, ridiculed, or attacked.”

If we are so entrenched in our opposing views, how can we heal the wound?

For the moment, let’s not take on the huge world of politics. Let’s start with how we might relate to someone who has an opposite opinion about something important to both of us. One way to soften the boundary is to find common ground. My friend Cedar Barstow (Right Use of Power) has recently created a guideline for talking across the divide. It is focused around exploring our similarities and differences around whatever topic is at issue. By first establishing our similarities, we make connection. As in: “We both agree that the immigration system needs fixing.” Then as we go on to state our differences, we have a basis  of agreement to work from. It is important, Cedar emphases, to state the difference in non-judgmental language. More about her approach can be found here.

Expressing ourselves in a non-judgmental manner is certainly a life skill worthy of practice.

What is tempting when confronted with a viewpoint different from our own, is to label the person holding that viewpoint as stupid or even evil. It is important to separate the person from his opinion. And to understand that our opinions and actions are shaped by the totality of our life circumstances. If we can really step into the shoes of the other, even an opinion that seems crazy or heartless can be compassionately comprehended.

Another strategy that is helpful is to seek to connect with the caring in the other. Lakoff tells of responding to a student who is afraid to meet his grandfather at Thanksgiving because they always have a terrible fight. He suggests that the student ask his grandfather what he is most proud of that he has done for other people. The student came back and said his grandfather had done a lot of good things. Lakoff told him, “Only talk to him about those things,” because that activates care and nurturance in his brain.

A challenging strategy: to look within and ask ourselves how much of the intensity of our assertions comes from the need to feel better than. I am good, because I have good, caring convictions. Therefore I am better than you who has heartless, stupid convictions. I think that most of us carry deep inside that need to feel better than. No blame, no shame. It is the ubiquitous wound of our Story of Separation. It can be quite hidden and hard to look at, but seeing it and releasing it can make a huge difference in how we relate.1

For me, one of the most important messages in Cedar’s guidelines is to not try to change the other’s mind. I feel so sure I am right that the other person is bound to see the light if I point it out to him. But my experience has been again and again, and maybe yours has, too, that I run into a wall. I am not able to change his mind. Considering Lakoff’s findings about the entrenchment of worldview in the neurocircuitry and in the body, that is not surprising.

So Cedar wisely suggests that we not try. That instead we really listen.

Deep, compassionate listening is a gift beyond measure. What can happen if we listen with ears of our hearts, see with the eyes of love that other person who is also a part of ourselves?

With Liberty and Justice for All


When I was a child growing up in New England in the 1940’s, we began each school day standing, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the flag and “the republic for which it stands.”

In this difficult time for our nation, the last words of the flag salute seem important to remember—with liberty and justice for all. images

There are other words, older than the words of the flag salute (first written in 1887), which have shaped our nation from its inception—”life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (from the Declaration of Independence 1776.)

These have been guiding words for our nation, though we haven’t always lived up to them very well. We have stumbled again and again, acted as if such words were only for some of us, yet over time we have made progress. It is no longer legal for one of us to own another as slave; women can now vote and own property and even run for president; people of different races, gays and lesbians can now marry. Immigrants have been welcomed and integrated, enriching our culture. We have made progress in developing cleaner sources of energy. And much more.

In recent weeks, with dizzying speed, some of these steps toward liberty and justice for all have been turned back. Fear, anger, outrage run in strong currents through every level of our society.

It seems a good time to vision what it might be like if we lived up to the guidance of our founding fathers. To dream. What would it look like if we had liberty and justice for all? If all people were considered equal with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Here is my dream: that every person in this country have adequate food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare, the support of a loving community, meaningful work, and enough time and energy for family, children, play, art, laughter.

That we all work to heal our planet until we have clean water, clean air, clean earth, grow our food and meet our energy needs in a sustainable manner, and that we respect and protect all the plants and other creatures who share this land with us.

We have the resources and the know-how to manifest such a dream. It is only our scrambled politics and upside-down economic system, our fears of scarcity—if they have enough, I won’t—that stand in the way.

The last two words of the pledge are important. “For all.” All. Not just those of us who are already educated, whose race and circumstances make it unlikely that we will be targeted for traffic stops and drug searches, whose families do not need to fear being torn apart by deportation.

But this dream is not nearly big enough. We cannot afford “America first.” We are all, all living beings on this planet, inextricably woven together. We need this dream to be for all people, all plants and creatures on this Earth.borowitz-earth-endangered-by-fact-resistant-humans-690

Which is HUGE. Way too huge for any one person, any one organization, even any one country to manifest alone.

What can we do? I think we each need to find our own unique contribution to the manifestation of the dream. It may be political, it maybe joining an organization, creating art, or simply being open to what crosses our path, what calls us to the furtherance of the dream. And most of all, to hold the dream close to our hearts in all the interactions of our daily lives.