“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
It is a sunny day, fall in the mountains, clear, crisp with blue skies. I have just listened to a talk on equanimity, after meditating. My brain was quiet today, not a tremendous amount heard from the Monkey Mind, not a lot of planning, although a little. I am delighted that all I heard about was a slight pain in my leg. It was a quiet thirty minutes.
I woke early and talked with a friend on the other side of the dateline. It was late evening there, and it was good to speak with her, to see her on FaceTime. It is vital for me to have moments of connection and know that others care about me, and I care about them. Connection in the time of COVID-19 is essential for most of us. In particular for those who are social distancing and don’t see people in person a great deal.
What I am speaking about is connection with friends and people with whom we agree, but what about the folks with whom we don’t agree? Well, they are important too. They may be more crucial ultimately than those who co-sign our worldview.
Yesterday, I bought some wood from two people who don’t agree with me. I am sure they voted for Trump. Two other people helped us unload about two cords of wood, which is heavy and a lot of work. They also voted for Trump. I am quite sure about this. At one point, I overheard one man talking to the other, telling him that he had COVID-19 about two months ago and still couldn’t smell or taste. “It is really annoying,” he said. The other man did a double-take. It was apparent that he hadn’t believed that COVID-19 was real or that it might cause damage if it was real. I was struck by this. We were outside, and I was the only person wearing a mask. I was struck that the gentleman hearing about the other guy’s experience with COVID-19 did not believe in something that I do not want to catch, and in which I very much believe. He was an innocent. He didn’t disbelieve because he wanted to harm anyone. He was shocked. This was revelatory to me. These four people who absolutely don’t believe as I do were helping me with no agenda. Kindness. That is all. Kindness is what they were offering. I made sure to thank them. I have a back that is in turmoil right now, and no more could have unloaded 2000 pounds of wood then flew. Had I attempted to, I would have injured myself. So, these folks who don’t agree with me, probably about a lot, were helping me to keep warm this winter.
These moments matter. They allow me to catch a glimpse into the heart of humanity. These moments allow me to see that what we want for each other is the best, no matter our beliefs. At this moment, it is vital that we all notice the goodness in others.
I am not naïve. I work as a therapist and have heard horrible things about people’s behavior: parents that serve up their children to be abused, children who were abused cruelly. I watch the news, the young men marching in favor of ‘White Power,’ the policeman with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. I understand that there are people that are filled with fear and rage. Trump yelling to a mass of people about Mexican rapists and bad people and the crowd agreeing, rabid, faces distorted, pursed mouths. I understand this all exists, but so do the people who unloaded two cords of wood.
I must remember that not all who believe differently than I are dangerous or intend me harm, or for that matter, intend anyone harm. I am delighted these people exist. Knowing that most do not want harm gives me hope. Knowing this is a place of refuge, it is a retreat from the people who do mean harm.
I want to say this: there are more of us, more of the people who do not mean harm than those that do. I believe it is essential to know this, to embrace this truth, to allow it to seep into our bones. To understand that those who differ with us are not our enemies. It is necessary to disbelieve the screaming alerts of our limbic systems, to be smarter than this.
Frankl was correct. There is a space, to cultivate this space between the limbic brain going off and any response is wise. It is difficult but smart for all of us who are only too practiced at imagining the worst case scenario. It is smart to instead allow our minds to understand that humans mean well. Most of the time, humans mean well. I will remember the people who saved my neck from sure disaster by helping me unload the wood. They are the best of people no matter how different than I.