In the film, Seabiscuit, a horse that is broken comes back to win in a major race. At the end, the rider shares: I know that many think we helped bring a broken horse back to life, but I think it is, we, who were brought back from our broken lives…and in the process we helped each other become healthy again. When I listened to those words, I thought to myself: that’s where we are as a nation right now – broken and apart. Seemingly, lost and irretrievably entangled in a web of fear and blame, hatred and overwhelming anguish at the endless violence and social injustices that permeate our society on a daily basis.
Most of my life I was taught that good triumphs over evil and that kind and caring people are always there when they are most needed. That dream is still inside of me, however clouded by doubt and the hopelessness of an undeniable reality of broken promises and dreams from yet another election year. And yet, something inside of me endures. Praying that this person or year will make a difference. That we will somehow ‘awaken’ from this nightmare that seems to be engulfing all of us into a dark hole of suspicion and distrust into a world where we value and honor each other for who we are and for what we bring to the table.
Some have said democracy is a ‘work in progress.’ But, too often it feels that only a small group of select folks are progressing and that the vast majority of us are left behind to fend for ourselves, even called ‘victims’ when they try to speak the truth about the injustices and inequities thrust upon them since birth.
If we are ever to fulfill the ‘dream of democracy’ we must decide to live and to experience the world around us differently. There is Chinese proverb: To get to a different place, we have to take a different path. Sounds logical doesn’t it? Ah, but so difficult to put into practice. In one of my recent workshops a young woman who was just hired shared how often she was bombarded by calls from folks who insult and demean her because she is young and new to her job. In response, an older woman lectures her about needing to ‘grow up’ and that it is because of her immaturity that she is feeling this way. As I witnessed all of this, I noticed how uncomfortable and dejected the young woman felt, partly because she felt unseen, but also invalidated and blamed. You see, what was missing here was compassion and curiosity. Empathy for what she was feeling and going through and curiosity about how this affected her, what was familiar, and lastly what kind of support did she need and want from the folks in the room.
You see, the disengagement here was a common pattern of blaming and judging her for not being ‘prepared’ or strong enough. In short, the older woman was sharing what she would do, not taking the time to learn more about the person in front of her who was hurting and feeling alone. As the Buddhist often share: Curiosity is the gateway to empathy. Don’t you think it’s time we became more curious, more compassionate, more supportive? If not you, then who? If not now, then when?