By Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson
What path did you follow? Some of us tried to change the world, while others "went inward," seeking to change ourselves. Corinne and Gordon offer a blueprint showing that to do one is, in effect, to do both. Here is an excerpt from their groundbreaking book, Spiritual Politics.
Spirituality? Politics? How can we mention these in the same breath? Most people would say you can be either a spiritual seekeror a political activistbut never both because it creates fanatics who impose their beliefs on others. For those caught in dualistic, "either/or" thinking, politics and spirituality seem worlds apart-- two different arenas that should never be mixed.
But in actual practice, true spirituality can ennoble politics and politics can ground spirituality. Spirituality can help people leave ego and power trips at the door and truly serve the good of others. Politics can provide a practical arena for applying spiritual principles such as compassion, as instant feedback is given if someone doesn't "walk the talk" if their words are more pious than their deeds. Bringing spiritual values such as altruism and courage into politics could offset the immense power of moneyed interests to influence policy and the cynicism and apathy of the public.
Gandhi had no trouble bringing his spirituality and politics together. He said, "I could not lead a religious life unless I identified with the whole of mankind, and that I could not do unless I took part in politics."
But what about separation of church and state in this country? As Congressman Dennis Kucinich says, "Our Founders never meant to imply that we should separate...the actions of government from spiritual principles." Nor that we should avoid discussing spiritual ideas in the public arena. They only intended that the State not impose religious beliefs on citizens or interfere in the practice of religion. "Religion" refers to an organized institution and community of believers, with specific dogmas and practices. But spirituality relates to one's inner, moral-centered life in relation to the Transcendent. It is concerned with qualities of the human spirit such as love and courage. Religion can help a person be spiritual, but spirituality isn't dependent upon religion.
People today are yearning for a spiritually based politics guided by moral valuesa politics that doesn't appeal only to self-interest and pit one group against another. They seek a type of political discourse that speaks to their deepest values as human beings, that provides a greater sense of community and a transcendent purpose as a nation, that offers us a higher vision of public life and service to the common good--rather than appealing only to greed and lust for power.
A recent poll found that 84% of Americans agree that "our government would be better if policies were more directed by moral values." Another poll (The Washington Post, March 18, 2000) found that the issue of greatest concern to voters wasn't healthcare or education, but rather moral values.
If citizens make it safe to discuss spiritual values in public life, then they can hold politicians accountable for the spiritual values they espouse. The public has made it very clear they don't want negative campaigning, and today's presidential candidates try to convince voters that their campaign is the most positive. Many voters say that the refreshing call to honesty, service and sacrifice from one of the candidates this year is what drew them to vote for the first time in many years.
How can we recognize a spiritually based politics? Here are some key qualities:
Spirituality in politics is most apparent where citizens altruistically engage in politics to help others, rather than just protect their own self-interests (e.g., lowering their taxes, providing healthcare they need, etc.) Although promoting self-interest this may be necessary and certainly is not wrong, it is not motivated by unselfish concern for others. However, even when the public motive is to help others, one needs to also honestly assess whether the private motive might be increasing one's own power or recognition, etc., as this would reduce its spiritual value. And ultimately the measurement of spirituality is integritywhether someone embodies the spiritual principles they promote.
There are many ways in which spiritual values impact American politics today. (Of course, based on our own political leanings, it may be harder to see the spiritual motivation in the politics of our opponents.) The most visible area recently, for example, is in addressing declining morals and family values in popular culture today. Fundamentalist Christians have been the most vocal about this, but others have also expressed concern. The issues here are school prayer, censoring overt sexuality in movies and TV, banning abortion, etc. Champions include conservative leaders such as Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer.
Another arena is fighting injustice and inequality by speaking truth to power. Liberals and reformers have generally taken more of this approach. Issues include human rights, racism, women's rights, etc. Well known champions of these causes are leaders such as Martin Luther King, Ceasar Chavez, and Gloria Steinem.
Providing for the poor, the homeless, and the handicapped, as well as reducing violence and drug abuse have always been key arenas for spiritual activism. Liberals generally promote government programs as solutions, while conservatives promote private solutions, including faith-based organizations.
The invocation of service and sacrifice for a higher ideal to activate political will is another major arena for spirituality. Best known for this are Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and more recently, John McCain.
Many spiritually oriented people have been increasingly concerned about the protection of wildlife and stewardship of the natural world. Environmental protection, endangered species protection, and energy conservation are key issues. Vice-President Al Gore speaks about this as a spiritual issue, as do Thomas Berry, Dennis Hayes, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and others.
In research for our book, Spiritual Politics, I found that in addition to these traditional spiritual approaches, a new spiritually-based politics is emerging in many places around the country today that embodies principles common to the world's spiritual traditions. Here are the key approaches is being used and some examples of organizations effectively embodying them:
Using a "higher common ground" process for resolving conflicts and making policy.
Most spiritual traditions teach that there is a grain of truth on each side of a conflict, and they promote healing, reconciliation and forgiveness. The training of initiates in ancient mystery schools included training in paradoxical thinking--holding two opposite ideas at the same time. The Taoists teach about yin and yang--the polar oppositesthat are held in a dynamic balance. The Buddhists teach about the Noble Middle Path between the pairs of opposites. In the Jewish Kabbalah, The Tree of Life, the middle pillar shows the path of balance between the opposites.
As Einstein said, we can't solve a problem on the same level of consciousness that created the problem. We have to find higher common ground. Many of the new political approaches transcend the usual Right/Left adversarial approach to find higher ground on polarized issues.
Multi-stakeholder dialogues, which involve all parties in a collaborative dialogue, are proving to be the most effective way to develop viable policies and reduce conflict on divisive issues such as race, abortion, and the environment. For example, The Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy helps resolve ethnic conflicts worldwide through involving all stakeholders in dialogues--government, business and non-profit groupsand listening deeply to all perspectives. Search for Common Ground helps opponents on both sides of the abortion debate find common ground by working together to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to make adoptions more easily available. America Speaks creates innovative citizen dialogues on local issues such as neighborhood development and national issues such as Social Security.
The ageless wisdom of East and West emphasizes that unity is needed before there can be peace in the world. Peace is built on right human relations. Through these many efforts to transform conflict and listen to voices on all sides of an issue, the seeds of a new politics is beginning to emerge. It is a politics that recognizes the underlying unity of humanity and builds a new synthesis based on identification with the whole.
Promoting "best practices"spiritually based solutions to social problems.
Many of these new solutions have been pioneered by "civil society" groups (non-profit organizations) which represent a powerful third force beyond government and business that embodies the spirit of service found in all religions. Their spiritually based solutions are effective because they address the whole person--body, mind and spirit--and change lives, rather than just provide food or shelter. Recognizing their effectiveness, the national welfare reform act of 1996 contains a "charitable choice" clause that enables religious organizations to compete for government contracts to provide social services.
Sojourners in Washington, D.C., has helped juvenile gang members give up violence and drugs and find a new life. The Restorative Justice Institute in Virginia brings together victims and offenders for reconciliation and forgiveness. RESULTS in Washington, D.C., promotes micro-creditsmall loans to the poorest of poor guaranteed by a group of peers. The Alliance of Concerned Men in Washington, D.C. helps unmarried fathers reconnect with their sons and take responsibility for their education. The Natural Step in California engages businesses in protecting the environment through more sustainable practices.
Working to change consciousness.
Our negative patterns of thinking are the deeper cause of problems in our world. As medical researchers are discovering that our thoughts affect our health, we need to explore how our collective thoughts are affecting our collective social health. The Ageless Wisdom of both East and West reveals how to change the world by changing consciousness. In the West, the Bible says, "As a man [or woman] thinketh in his heart, so he is." Likewise, the Buddhists say, "With our thoughts we make the world." Form follows thought--mind is the builder. The interplay of human and Divine thought creates all reality.
For example, The Foundation for Global Community, (formerly Beyond War) based in Palo Alto, CA, successfully enlisted hundreds of teams around the country to help Americans reframe their thinking about nuclear war. They learned to see it as obsolete, because no one could actually win a nuclear war. So a new, non-violent strategy for security was promoted.
Other groups, such as The Center for Visionary Leadership, are helping people study the deeper spiritual causes of current events and crises. Events can be a rich source of collective learning if we're willing to explore the lessons being offered through shared national experiences. We can interpret events as the symbolic out-picturing of the inner forces at work and explore their hidden causes in consciousness. The Native Americans called this "Reading the Book of Life."
For example, the O.J. Simpson trial was a type of nationally televised psychotherapy on the issues of domestic violence, racism, and our dysfunctional legal system. Collective disasters provide major opportunities to learn compassion for victims, as well as to learn the consequences of our actions. "As you sow, so shall you reap," as the Bible says--or "karma" as the Hindus say. When the Mississippi River flooded major portions of the U.S. several years ago, for example, sewage dumped in its tributaries backed up and returned to the towns that had dumped it. A spiritual approach to politics does not look for others to blame, but rather takes responsibility for one's own thoughts and actions.
Using prayer and meditation to invoke spiritual help for our leaders, for public policies, and for crisis situations.
A spiritually based politics recognizes that we humans do not have to struggle with our problems alone, as help is always available from higher dimensions when it is asked for. There are many examples of intervention by higher spiritual forces throughout history, such as the help received by the Allies during the Battle of Britain in World War II and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's vision of Mohammed inspiring him to create peace in the Middle East.
This approach has been used by all religions down through the ages, and in this country especially. But there are many non-denominational groups, that have a more universal spiritual approach, that becoming increasingly active in this way. Pathways to Peace in Larkspur, CA and ReCreation Foundation in Ashland, OR, for example, organize prayer vigils to ask for spiritual help in crisis situations. A major prayer vigil around the world in 1995 helped support the peace process in Bosnia at a crucial juncture. Another vigil in 1997 mobilized prayers to prevent war with Iraq over a U.N. weapons inspection. Pathways to Peace organizes a prayer for the United Nations every September on its opening day.
At The Center for Visionary Leadership, which I co-founded several years ago in Washington, D.C., we created a prayer to help heal the divisions that divide us as a nation (see below). Our staff says this together at noon on a regular basis, and many others around the country also use it. We also encourage people to "Adopt a Leader"--find a national leader that needs help spiritually, but has a lot of potential, and follow his or her career, praying or meditating for him, that he may align with higher spiritual principles and serve the good of all.
The Faith and Politics Institute in Washington D.C. provides reflection groups to support Congressmen and their staff in being true to their deepest values when confronting difficult issues such as campaign fundraising.
Global Renaissance Alliance in Detroit, MI, encourages citizens around the country to meet in small groups to help heal America by praying and studying together, as well as promoting appropriate legislation in Congress.
The Foundation for Ethics and Meaning based in Tampa, FL supports grassroots groups around the country in undertaking projects to transcend our profit-obsessed culture, such as the General Ethical Measurement Standards to measure a business' care of people, the environment and the community.
In the widespread trend to bring Spirit into business, an increasing number of Americans are working to make their companies reflect their values. They are hungering for a deeper sense of meaning and purpose at work and want to apply their values in a practical way. Similarly, many citizens want their politics and government to reflect moral values, and their politicians to embody the values they promote. The bringing together of spirituality and politics is a key idea whose time has comein fact, it's long overdue.
From The Foreword To Spiritual Politics By His Holiness The Dalai Lama
In our present state of affairs, the very survival of mankind depends on people developing concern for the whole of humanity, not just their own community or nation. The reality of our situation impels us to think and act properly. Narrow-mindedness and self-centered thinking may have served us well in the past, but today will only lead to disaster. We can overcome such attitudes through a combination of education and training. On the basis of love and kindness towards our human brothers and sisters, we need to develop a sense of universal responsibility.
Attempts have been made in the past to create societies that were more just, whose members were more equal. Institutions have been established with noble charters to combat anti-social forces. Unfortunately, too often such ideals have been cheated by selfishness. Today, we can see more clearly than ever before how ethics and noble principles become poisoned by self-interest, particularly where politics are concerned. Politics devoid of ethics contribute nothing to human welfare, and life without morality reduces humans to the level of beasts.
Civilization is founded on such human qualities as honesty, morality, compassion, and wisdom. But these qualities must be cultivated and sustained through systematic moral education in a conducive social environment. Normally such qualities should be inculcated from childhood. However, we cannot wait for the next generation to make the change. We need a revolution in our commitment to and practice of universal humanitarian values right now.
A real "new world order" is not a question of economic or political adjustment, but a realignment of our motivation. To begin with, we can avoid harming others in any way, whether directly or indirectly, on an individual or international level, and pause to examine how we can help them.
The end of the cold war may have removed one kind of threat, but we are still faced by the problems of environmental degeneration, overpopulation, and ethnic strife. This timely book, Spiritual Politics: Changing the Worldfrom the Inside Out, sets out ways for developing a new approach to creating a happier, more peaceful world. The authors have done well to produce it, but the success of their efforts will depend on whether readers put their advice into effect.
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