Interview continued from John E. Welshon’5 Tips for Healing a Difficult Relationship:
Q: Recently we have seen celebrities and political figures run amok in the manners department. Where do manners fit in with the practice of being mindful?
A: Well, the practice of being “mindful” suggests living most of your life in a state of meditation, or meditative awareness. It is an integral part of our quest for inner peace. And inner peace ultimately translates into outer peace. In fact, there is no way to argue your way to peace in relationships, and no way to fight your way into peace in the external environment. you know, insulting another human being, or acting in a way that diminishes their value is not generally a good way to heal a relationship, or to improve the world. As Gandhi said, you must be the change you’re looking to see in the world. Don’t be so busy telling everybody else how to act – just see to it that you are acting in a manner that is most healing to relationships and to the world.
Now that brings us to the situation of our culture. We have become incredibly disconnected and narcissistic. So many people in the culture have gotten the idea that the only way to be safe and happy is to be emotionally disconnected – to think, essentially, that the world revolves around “me”, that “I” am all that matters. Have you ever noticed, for instance, that when someone is going to cut you off in traffic, or in the grocery store, they won’t look in your eyes? Because if we really look in each other’s eyes, our whole game of disconnection is over. If we really look, we see another being just like us in another body. We get a glimpse of our soul – our eternal, unbreakable connection. So if we want to feel free to be rude and self-centered, we have to keep up our sense of disconnection. Otherwise, we just can’t do it.
It turns out that the practice of good manners is not just some uptight, outdated, Emily Post system of etiquette for girls who went to “finishing school.” If you really examine “good manners,” they are practices aimed at cultivating the awareness that there is someone in the world besides “me,” and that the other people in the world have an equal right to be acknowledged, to be valued, to be given opportunities, to be respected. If you are endeavoring to create a meditative awareness in your life, practicing good manners will help you. Because meditation is simply paying attention to what is happening in the moment. It is about connecting fully with your experience of life in this moment. And the same is true of manners. So if your experience of life in this moment includes someone who is waiting for the same parking space you want, you simply acknowledge that and move on to find another parking space. That kind of consideration and awareness of others not only enhances your moment-to-moment awareness, but it simultaneously connects you to other human beings in a way that becomes very nurturing and nourishing to your soul. When you practice good manners, suddenly you feel less alone in the world.
As a culture, unfortunately, we have become increasingly tolerant of rudeness. In fact, we have turned rudeness – and its eventual counterpart, violence – into entertainment. Rudeness and violence have become acceptable behavior because the news media, and the entertainment industry feed us a steady diet of it. It causes our youth to idolize and want to emulate some of the most self-absorbed people in the culture. The problem with that is that self-absorption can never lead to happiness. In fact, it leads in the opposite direction. Our cultural values are so askew that our children wind up worshiping and wanting to emulate some of the most unhappy people in the culture. Isn’t that bizarre?
The current situation in our government, in television journalism and in political commentary is really quite tragic. When conservatives and liberals demonize each other, and refuse to engage in meaningful, civil, rational dialogue, both sides just keep getting angrier and angrier, louder and more irrational, and less and less inclined to work together for the benefit of the country. There is little inclination to want to compromise, and come to a consensus because each side has decided that the other’s ideas are so repugnant and wrong that they shouldn’t even dialogue in a civil fashion. I read a survey about a year ago in which conservatives were asked to define liberals, and liberals were asked to define conservatives. The study showed that over eighty-five percent of the respondents on both sides used the word “evil” to characterize the other. Now when you start from that vantage point, where do you go in terms of working together for the common good?
John E. Welshon is the author of One Soul, One Love, One Heart: The Sacred Path to Healing All Relationships.
I love several things about the author’s answer. For one thing, how right he is: People are becoming more and more self-absorbed as they model themselves after some of the most self-centered, self-obsessed people the world has ever seen. If you want your relationships to be all that they can be, putting yourself first, middle, and last is the worst move you can make.
I’m blown away by the fact that conservatives and liberals described one another as “evil.” While it makes me kind of sad all over, it’s not surprising. After all, one camp blamed President Bush for everything that went wrong, including natural disasters – and the other camp suggested Barack Obama was the anti-Christ.
Relationships have to be built – constructed, even. Yet so many people seem to be only interested in tearing the other person down. You can’t build something worthwhile if you spend so much time and energy trying to tear something down.
Common sense? Definitely. Yet it’s something few… very, very few… people actually “get.”