Saturday, December 14, 2013

Politics & Family – Cognitive Dissonance, The Stockholm Syndrome, and the Challenge to Cultural Evolution



If we're ever going to resolve to face the problems of our increasingly divided planet, we'll have to get busy right away. The biggest problem we face isn't just with the "one percent" we rarely see, it's with the twenty-seven percent we often know quite wellIn fact, some may be friends or family members we get to deck the halls with, and it's a real challenge to confront these divisions with those we're supposed to love the most.

It's pretty clear that the obstacles preventing cultural equanimity and responsible stewardship of our country and our planet are generated by multinational corporations, whose financial power is based on perpetuating destructively anachronistic systems of resource management and social division. That's quite a mouthful, isn't it? Toppling the entrenched power structure would be a lot to bite off all at once, and couldn't be done quickly without making a real mess, so what's the most expedient way to go about it?

Saying that it starts with you and me may sound silly, since we probably all started changing a long time ago. The real problem we have is in convincing all those beautiful people that don't agree with us. People who for some crazy reason seem to think fascism and environmental destruction are good ideas. Let's start with some awareness about what we're up against, namely certain difficulties that are part of human nature.

Cognitive Dissonance is the official name given to that sad tendency of people to join in efforts and opinions that are actually harmful to their own circumstances, usually to allow them to avoid uncomfortable truths. It's kind of a volatile [and dependable] character glitch, and as such is often exploited. Patriotism, religion, racism, xenophobia, financial and sexual insecurities are all activators of Cognitive Dissonance. So you see Washington think-tanks and Wall Street corporate advertisers using them aggressively, and very effectively.

"Ignoring one's...self-interest may seem a suicidal move to you and me, but viewed in a different way it is...a sacrifice to a holier cause."
Thomas Frank, What's Wrong With Kansas?

At it's worst, in terms of the political divisions in our country, Cognitive Dissonance can engender "The Stockholm Syndrome" – the pathological identification of a victim with their tormentors. A 2007 FBI database study indicated that in 73% of abduction and kidnap cases the victims did not develop Stockholm Syndrome, which leaves a very substantial 27% subject to the irrational, self-destructive tendency to side with their exploiters. Not coincidentally, that's quite close to the number of people who identify themselves as Republicans. If you don't, you are part of the substantial 73% majority. 

But what can we do we do to change those minds? You know that when you try to convince someone they're wrong about something obvious, their Cognitive Dissonance kicks in, they git their back up, and there's little chance of moving them an inch. In fact, they feel even more strongly that they are right, and though you may be sincerely trying to help, they become even more convinced that your intentions are subversive and threatening. Unfortunately, a lot of human beings operate from that fearful dynamic. It's a glitch we haven't quite figured out yet...(but Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, certainly has.)

So we've got to take a careful, even therapeutic approach – a healing approach; and as healing is a spiritual activity, when we talk about "cultural evolution" we're really talking about our mutual spiritual evolution, which is the source of all the solutions to our deepest challenges. That's where it does start – with just you and me. In short, we use Love, and Time. You know, holiday spirit.

Even though a friend or family member has identified with destructive, irrational influences, we do still share mostly common ground with them. Kindly, calmly stand your ground – but never engage in the energy of confrontation. Let them be right if they need to be, and often in that quiet moment of hollow "victory," the folly of their delusion resonates uncomfortably, and gives them a chance to realize the power of your point – that the fault really comes from a manipulative third party that they don't have nearly as much in common with as they have with you. But it all takes time – we can't rush it.

Practice restraint and let things go; but be reliable – Show up for family commitments, remember special occasions, be available to help – expecting nothing in return. Sincerely be there for them (without ever being patronizing), as though it were for a person you were helping recover from a painful injury. Make your arguments subtly, by personally demonstrating that your point of view reflects good character in every other facet of your life, aside from your politics or philosophy.

Caring, consistent, and compassionate action will support any point you want to make much more effectively than a documented factoid or a raised voice. If you can be an example of reason and sanity, then the 99% of what you have in common will solidify in their experience. When we're not trying to win, the calm understanding and honest, fact-based considerations we occupy carry the profound power of a more truthful engagement in life, on every level. The real insanity becomes much more obvious, in comparison to the sanity grounded in spiritual principles.

"Occupy" life, so to speak, and soon you may be surprised to find that generosity of spirit has occupied the heart and mind of the very person who was at one time so vehemently set against you. With that we might occupy the Red States, the less fortunate, the middle class, the upper middle class, the Independents, the "moderate" Re-publicans (are there any out there?) We might even occupy the Tea Party and the 1%... After all – we are all the same thing.

"Spiritual power moulds physical and material conditions, but spiritual power is never in a hurry.
White Eagle, The Quiet Mind

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Nicest Way to Do the Holidays: Smile and Change the World


"None of the means employed to acquire religious merit...has a sixteenth part of the value of loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, which is freedom of the heart, absorbs them all; it glows, it shines, it blazes forth."

The Buddha, Itivuttaka Sutta


That's quite a precise break-down of the power of being nice, don't you think? I wonder how he knew? I tried it out myself at one time and I never looked back, so I'll pass it along to you as something of a challenge: The challenge to show as much sincere kindness as you possibly can to everybody you meet. It's kind of a tall, but not impossible order, and can help quite a lot at this time of year – what with all the demands on your holiday cheer.

Of course The Buddha knew the difference between being spiritual and being religious – that it's a little like comparing apples to Christmas ornaments. Going to church defines you as being a type of "believer," while showing loving-kindness to everyone you meet makes you more of a "practitioner;" after all, in the world we live in you're really less what you look like and think you are, and much more what you actually do and how you behave.

Take this little holiday challenge and try it yourself, from now through the new year, and watch what happens. You'll suddenly find yourself a part of a slightly invisible conspiracy of kindness. Of identification and compassion. Friends you never knew you had will show up everywhere, and then disappear just as beautifully and mysteriously – leaving you with only the one requirement, to con-tinue the chain of kindness.

First you'll be amazed, then you'll wonder, then you'll experiment more intentionally, then you'll probably never go back. It's that remarkably powerful, and will change your world that much. You can't help but be grateful for the really wonderful way people treat you when you show them unconditional loving-kindness. Then you'll find you're happy all the time, because gratitude always precedes happiness.

How does it work so well (sixteen times better...)? Simply because being kind to others takes the focus off of who your (very important) ego thinks you are, and places it on someone else's well-being – which as it turns out is really yours too. It will become easier and easier to show unconditional Love all the time, because Love is all unconditional already – it only becomes conditional when self-importance makes demands of it.

We all want Love and companionship. Compañero. We're all the same person, really. "No we're not!" your ego says, "I'm not at all like Dick Cheney!" (God bless 'im) Well, I'm sure that's true, and you may have a bit of a point after all, namely, should everyone get the same lovingly kind treatment, no matter how big of a jerk they are? Well, dammit, ideally yes they should (now that's "tough love"). But if that level of unconditionality is impossible, then let's look for a rule of thumb to go by:

"Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked."

Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, 1.33

So three out of four ain't bad. Just don't pay no mind to the Mr. Cheneys of the world. Better yet, see if you can find some Love in your heart for him, because that's how we will all evolve together. We're all becoming more and more able to share in the medium of Love that actually lives just beneath, swims all around, and courses right through us. It's the solution staring us in the face all the time– that reflected look of a stranger waiting for kindness. Gratitude and compassion are the doors to realizing it in every moment, and when we're kind to everyone we meet, all the time, we open up to this force of evolution that's flooding our plane of existence. We're opening the gates to it for ourselves – and for each other.

"Heaven arms with Compassion those whom it would not see destroyed"

The Tao te Ch'ing, 67

And for you competitive types who may see kindness as something of a disadvantage, kindness is actually a winning strategy. There's lots of people out there who've known it all along, you know, usually the people who are enjoying life, and almost always smiling. Compassion doesn't prevent them from being successful – it enables them to find spiritual realization, which is the real definition of success. To remove the obstacles to Love, and to  expand and grow and flow with Life.  Ho ho ho!

Take my holiday challenge, won't you? Turn your frown upside down and look into the nicest mirror you've ever seen...You might never look back.

Happy Holidays!


"How To Survive Life (and Death)," is available from Conari Press, or at all major booksellers––but ask for it from your local bookshop. It's the gift that keeps giving, life after death after life after...