Thoughts for a contentious vote- must my adversary be my enemy?

I’ve written in the past about election days and yoga, and while I’d call this election that’s upon us a pretty big one, I feel like I’ve said what I need to say about yoga and politics before.  (If you are curious about how I’m voting this time, I’ll posting it on my facebook feed after I vote.)  So go vote already, it’s a big, big bleepin’ deal.  That said, I wanted to mention one thing I’ve seen in the lead-up to this election that bothers me a lot. 

A decent handful of my friends and acquaintances have posted on their own Facebook feeds something to the effect of “if you ‘like’ Obama/Romney, I’m un-friending you, no questions, no apologies.”  Including yogis I respect a lot.  (Given where I live and my circles, I’ve seen this aimed more at Romney supporters, but I know it’s going both ways all over the country)  The NPR show This American Life recently profiled a public official in a small southern town who actually keeps the fact that he’s a Democrat a secret, for fear of the repercussions.  And that really saddens me, and I’d ask folks to consider it carefully. 

Now make no mistake, I think this is a huge election with potentially huge consequences on economic, social, military, and environmental policy for not just four but forty years.  (Remember, it’s likely that two Supreme Court seats will open up in the next four years.) And it’s almost a certainty that at least a quarter of the voting population will be exceedingly unhappy with the outcome of this election.  The level of political antagonism in this country is at a level unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime, that’s for sure.  I’m especially sympathetic to friends in the GLBT community on the left, who feel, with some real reason mind you, that a Romney/Ryan administration will roll back their rights and make it more acceptable to diminish their families.

BUT, even in this climate, is there anything to be gained, especially coming at it from a yogic perspective, from telling those whom you oppose that they’re not just seeing things from a different viewpoint but from a different hemisphere?  Can we make the leap of faith that not everyone who wants smaller government is somehow a heartless plutocrat (or wanna-be plutocrat)?  Or that folks who favor broad abortion rights are not bloodthirsty baby killers?  Furthermore, we learn early in our government classes that American democracy is predicated on compromise, sometimes ugly compromise, and that most political change is by its nature incremental?  (The 3/5 solution in the Constitution is pretty ugly law, but without it there is no Constitution)?  You can’t compromise with someone you won’t talk to.  To dehumanize our opponents- and make no mistake, that is happening in too many places- diminishes everyone involved, and creates the kind of gridlock that is throttling civic life in this country.  And even to my friends who consider a vote for Romney a direct attack on their civil rights, or a vote for Obama as a vote for a baby killer, does it really serve your cause to cast your opponent as unworthy of your humanity?

A couple of my regular clients are very political, as I am, but with views are far, far different than mine on many things.   We still talk politics, sometimes a lot, and for years now have managed to disagree without being disagreeable.  And I learn from these exchanges, and I hope they do too.  I’m not sure I’ll ever change their votes, but I think our relationships wouldn’t be as rich if we only talked about the Celtics and our families.  (We never go too far- I still want them to pay me, after all.  But we do go.)

To go all yogic for a second, remember that the Bhagvada Gita is a long argument where Krishna (god) has to convincing Arjuna to fight in an epic battle.  Arjuna resists not because he doesn’t believe in his cause (he does) or because he feels like he is somehow in the wrong (he isn’t).  He resists to some degree because of his fear of upsetting societal norms, but also because, perhaps more, because he weeps for the suffering that will commence, and because of his compassion and his empathy for his adversaries. That, to me, is what makes him such a sympathetic hero.  If we, especially the yoga community, can harvest some of that empathy, some of that compassion, especially for our adversaries, we create the potential for some reconciliation, personal and political, to come out of this election.  If not, it’s just a lot of shouting heads and lawyers going forward, and I fear for many more years of acrimony or worse.

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