We Need Two Wings to Fly

Mindfulness supports us to be present here and now, paying attention to our thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, and external environment with kindness, nonjudgment, and curiosity. Mindfulness is a practice because staying in the present moment and attending to the fullness of our experience requires ongoing attention––otherwise our focus can be pulled away to past or future events, or by our unexamined reactions to the world around us. Our attention, then, is a form of energy and we have a choice over what we feed.

We are living in dynamic times. Many of us feel persistent levels of anxiety and anger because of what is happening on a national scale to the rights of women, people of color, low-income communities, those who identify as LGBTQ+, and to the basic tenets of our Constitution. These feelings are intensified as the pandemic rages on, and we are isolated in our homes with no end in sight. Additionally, over the past four years, much of our media and attention have been drawn to an administration that contradicts science, creates confusion, and promotes social, political, and racial division. As a result, hate crimes have been on the rise, and attacks on one another based on our political affiliations can quickly escalate on social media threads and within families.

The Obamas have a phrase, “When they go low, we go high.” For them, this means that when their detractors spread lies or hostility about them, they rise above it. Rather than defending themselves or attacking back, they keep to the high road of truth and decency. As we continue to fight for our civil liberties, we also need to take back control of our personal energy and how we interact with one another. As a country, it’s time for us all to go high. When we refuse to speak to those whose beliefs differ from ours, we are helping to build a wall. Our failure to see the commonalities we share with people who have opposing political allegiances makes us guilty of the same kinds of judgments that are threatening some of our rights.

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Action with Empathy

Once we have had a chance to heal and attend to our own feelings following this election, my hope is that we can lean towards empathy and kindness. This is not to say that we should stop voicing our concerns. We must continue to fight to protect the rights of all who live in the United States—to ensure that people from all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and countries of origin have equal rights and equitable access to opportunity. I’m not advocating for passivity. I am saying that part of the action we take must include making a conscious effort not to mimic the same hate speech, isolationism, and bias that is being exhibited by many of our leaders. 

“I’ve never seen a bird fly with only a left wing…never seen a bird fly only with a right wing. We need each other. It takes two wings to fly.” – Van Jones

Van Jones, author, speaker, and CNN commentator, does a beautiful job describing what I mean. He says, “I’ve never seen a bird fly with only a left wing…never seen a bird fly only with a right wing. We need each other. It takes two wings to fly.”1

Regardless of who wins, the closeness of this race confirms how divided we are as a country. Once we have an outcome for this election, Democrats and Republicans must find a way to work together again for the common good of the people of the United States. We have a lot of work to do.

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Going high isn’t easy—at least not for me. I am angry and frightened, and like a wounded animal, my impulse is to isolate and defend myself. As much as I’d like to stay in my corner and prepare for battle, however, I need to remember that the people I am most upset with share that same impulse.  When we attack one another, we become more entrenched and the divide between us widens. To heal our country, we must remember our common humanity and seek to understand one another––to disagree with love and to enter into debate about the issues with curiosity. Energy is catching. While our leaders hold sway over the country, we hold sway too. Compassion can spread just as effectively as hate.

Start with Kindness

How can we do that? I believe it starts with practicing mindfulness and basic human kindness. Kindness can be defined as being friendly, generous, and considerate. What does kindness look like? It can be smiling at a colleague or a stranger, truly listening to someone share about their lives, or simply saying hello to the people we pass by. It also includes being more patient and gentle with ourselves and setting boundaries on who and what we interact with. It means giving ourselves space to heal and recover from this election, and allowing ourselves to feel and express the full range of our emotions with those we love and trust.

The best thing about kindness is that it is free, can be expressed in a way that reflects our personal values, and is scientifically proven to have a positive impact. Research into kindness has shown that it reduces the effects of stress, improves our moods, and boosts our immunity.2

Kindness is also contagious. A joint study by Harvard and the University of California San Diego found that kind acts had a ripple effect that reached out to at least three degrees of separation!3 This means when we demonstrate kindness, the people we show that kindness to pass it along to those they interact with, and so on. As we take the next steps following this election, let’s make a kindness wave across this country and find a way to unite as a people. We need each other.

1 http://saltlakecommunitycollege.blogspot.com/2018/10/quotes-takeaways-from-cnn-political.html

2 Science of People (2019). Blog article: Kindness: Six selfish reasons to always be kind to others. Viewed on the internet on January 29, 2019, https://www.scienceofpeople.com/kindness/.

3 Ibid.

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