This weekend I attended my first two-day workshop as part of the University of Toronto’s Applied Mindfulness certificate program. I and 26 other students explored and discussed different methods of meditation. We received a lecture on the 2500 year-old history of mindfulness from its Tibetan roots to present day. Finally, we were introduced to the groundbreaking studies that have proven the medical benefits of this ancient practice. I received many words of wisdom from my instructors and noted statistics that deepened my confidence in the power of mindfulness. However, for me what was most profound about this course was not a statement or piece of information. It was a physical and emotional feeling I experienced near the end of day 2.
As I listened to the facilitator Michele Chaban bring our class to a conclusion, I looked around the room. I saw people of all ages, ethnicities and occupations. I saw Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists, conservatives and liberals. When Michele asked if anyone had any closing thoughts, I described what I felt: “Anyone in this room at this moment could say anything they believed to be true. And no matter how much any of us might disagree with that statement, their thoughts would be met with acceptance and without judgment.” This is an environment in which we rarely find ourselves today, particularly in conversation about the current American presidential election.
Society and history have divided us into teams. We are labeled leftist or right wing, progressive or conservative. We can blame these categorizations on the media, our parents or our teachers. But sadly we are often the ones putting ourselves into these boxes. Humans of all walks of life share a tendency to want to feel accepted by others. We want confirmation that our ideas are valid. In order to achieve this, we conform. We are told that to be a true democrat, we must be pro-abortion. If we want to be a true republican, we must want lower taxes. A real progressive must support a $15 minimum wage. A proud conservative must oppose gay marriage. As we lengthen the checklist of what makes a democrat or republican we are creating political religions. We are telling people everything they must believe in, no matter how unrelated one of those beliefs might be to another. Telling a democrat that in order to be considered liberal he must be anti-gun and support tuition free college is like telling a child that in order to be cool he has to like basketball and Nacho Cheese Doritos.
All of these categorizations and their respective belief systems discourage independent thought. They falsely teach us that in order to have a voice it must be in harmony with those who “share our values”. We end up lying to others and most detrimentally, to ourselves in order to fit in. Instead, we can encourage each other to speak our minds and stand up for what we personally value. Also, we can start listening to one another rather than ignoring or degrading those who have opposing viewpoints to our own. Remember that although we may hold different opinions, we all want a peaceful and prosperous world. Hearing one another will result in dialogue, compromise and progress. The antagonistic way in which we are currently debating will only lead us into further chaos, conflict and stagnancy.