by Susan Becker, RDC
The candidate’s story is pretty dismal. He’s run in 11 elections for state and federal office and has won just two of them.
By the time he was 21, he was involved in a failed business venture with a partner of questionable judgment. He began a second business, and, as the story goes, he went bankrupt doing it. His educational history is sketchy at best, and his mood swings are worrisome.
It’s a good thing Abraham Lincoln is not a key player in the current race for his party’s nomination for president. In this political climate he wouldn’t stand a chance.
Memories tend to be short, but this primary season seems to be notable in its uncivil discourse. In recent week’s personal religious practices and beliefs, theology, hair styles, choice of sweaters and choice of spouses have all been called into question and have found their way into the national debate on our collective future.
These side trips do nothing to advance serious debate, but rather tend to hijack it.
At the same time, happily, there is something of a counter-current gaining more and more strength in our culture. Some call it nonviolent communication, others contemplative dialogue, compassionate communication, civil discourse.
You might find it in a college orientation schedule as “How to Live in This World 101.” Whatever we name it, the fundamental principles are restraint, compassion, self-awareness, openness, and the capacity to understand our own biases and the filters we use to give and receive information.
Compassionate communication is the antithesis of name-calling; it is the capacity to shape and share a vision; to speak in ways that attend to the listener and to listen in ways that attend to the speaker.
When we communicate nonviolently, our attending is about listening deeply to the message. Genuine attentiveness and formulating a counter argument cannot occupy the same space.
People who work to make the language of nonviolence their way of doing business in this world attempt always to speak the truth as they know it at that moment. It may look different than it did at another time in their lives. It’s not about inconsistency; it’s about personal deepening. And it’s about extending this possibility to the other.
All of us have a “shadow side,” the part of us that reacts rather than responds, that has unexamined anger and fear that come out sideways, that practices our own version of “stealth bombing,” and that has decided that winning is about everyone else losing, and winning is worth any price.
We’ll never shed our shadow sides, but we aren’t predestined to live out of them.
It’s about choice. Better yet, it’s about wisdom.
I can’t change the uncivil discourse of this season’s primaries or – I fear – of next season’s campaign.
But maybe I, maybe we, can find the invitation the debates and speeches offer. The invitation, the challenge, is look into our own hearts and decide who it is we want to be in the small part of the planet we inhabit and then choose, every day, and as many times a day as we need to, to be that person.