Saturday, October 8, 2016

Let's bridge the gap

Black lives matter...this movement stirred up something in me, something I have felt for along time, yet it has nothing to do with black lives, ironically.  Instead, it has to do with the way in which we choose to react to distinct groups of people.  You can put any label on it.  Sure, black lives DO matter, and so do autistic lives and Muslim lives and police lives and well, I could go on, but you get my point.

My husband and I took our boys to the Tenement Museum in NYC this weekend and the curator of the "Irish Outsiders" tour said something that dug into this deeply rooted feeling I have about all prejudice.  After educating us on how in early America the Irish were persecuted against and treated like trash, even depicted in newspapers as apes with low intelligence, she said that the trend of prejudice still exists today and over time, all you needed to do was replace one race or group with yet another.  It got me thinking about all groups which are judged, it includes anyone who does something different, believes something different, looks different or behaves differently from the accepted societal "norm" and that is subject to personal interpretation.  What creates this divide is misunderstanding, a clear lack of good old human compassion.  It's easy to brush off that which we do not know or personally understand, but if you think about your own life, isn't it possible that there are groups that don't understand something about you too?  It may not be the color of your skin, but what about your political perspective, your religion, it might even just be how you choose to eat or dress or even the car you drive.   Do you ever feel different from another group and thereby judged unfairly?  More importantly, what IS the remedy?

The black lives matter movement was created with good intent.  But all the violence and anger that has been drudged up isn't all that good, is it?  It creates a greater divide.  This anger has merit and it proves that there is still deep pain and healing that must occur for those who express such resentment outwardly.  This isn't just a black lives matter issue though.  For example, I know many many angry autism moms.  We have been dubbed "warrior mothers" because we are fighting a battle, we are on the front lines of a war, so to speak.  I get it, there is a lot to be angry about.  We can focus on what sent our kids down the autism path, we can focus on the government corruption, we can focus on the unfairness of our children's lives....the pain, the hurt, the anger.  Here's the thing though, if we put out anger, what we are going to get in return is more anger.  It's a law of nature, you get what you give!  Let me spin it this way, couldn't we also focus on how these experiences have changed us for the better too?  I for one, am grateful for how much I learned about our health and environment and I feel blessed to have the strength and desire to help others who are seeking help.  There is much to learn from every group, all we have to do is be open to it and to change our own perspectives!  How can anyone expect change, if we aren't willing to be the change we want to see (thank you Gandhi)?

Think about the power a group can exhibit if they pull together to spread the best of themselves and their cultures rather than showing their weaknesses?  What if "black lives" put focus on traditions and qualities of their ancestry that can improve the world?  According to the Black Men's XChange there is an African tradition of accountability that would benefit every. single. person.

"In this African tribe, when someone does something harmful, they take the person to the center of the village where the whole tribe comes and surrounds them.
For two days, they will say to the man all the good things that he has done.
The tribe believes that each human being comes into the world as a good. Each one of us only desiring safety, love, peace and happiness.
But sometimes, in the pursuit of these things, people make mistakes.
The community sees those mistakes as a cry for help.
They unite then to lift him, to reconnect him with his true nature, to remind him who he really is, until he fully remembers the truth of which he had been temporarily disconnected: 'I am good'."

Think of the ripple effect something like this would have!  Sharing cultural traditions like this could change the world! Our perspective can be influenced.

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."  Wayne Dyer

And likewise, the autism community has so much to offer the world.  I spend much of my time educating others about the things I've learned from autism and PANDAS.  I prefer to see the beauty in what we have learned, but I can't control how it's received by those who cross my path.

My own personal experience of trying to raise my children with this compassion requires rewiring my own thought patterns.  We don't even realize how much we've been indoctrinated by society and it requires really taking a good look at our own behaviors first.  When we experienced bullying with one of our boys, I could have seen my child as a victim and encouraged entitlement by demanding respect from the other child.  Instead, I asked my child to use compassion in his approach, I asked my child to begin the flow of change.  First, we focused on examples of how the other child might have been driven to treat him and then we had to take the reigns and do something to encourage growth in the relationship rather than more anger and pain.  You know what, it worked!  Instantly.  It reinforced this form of problem solving for my child.  I can't tell you how many times I have heard people talk about teaching their kids to fight so they can overpower the bully (I don't even like using the word bully, which carries a negative connotation regarding a child who is acting out of pain and/or fear).  All this does is perpetuate the problems while reducing our sensitivity to human connection!  Of course, I do think children should be empowered to defend themselves in case they ever find themselves in a dangerous interaction with someone, especially someone larger than them, BUT I don't think we should encourage fighting as a response to the obvious expression of pain from someone else.  Ironically, in our case, even before I had heard of the above African tribe and their beautiful display of building up a person in pain, I taught my child to compliment people, to listen to others and to spend time making them feel worthy and cared for...especially if they are behaving like a bully!  Buddha once said that it's those who are angry that need the most love.  Thich Nhat Hanh eloquently explains it like this.  “When you express your anger you think that you are getting anger out of your system, but that's not true,” he said. “When you express your anger, either verbally or with physical violence, you are feeding the seed of anger, and it becomes stronger in you."

Only understanding and compassion can neutralize anger.

An experience from my childhood shapes this frame of reference for me.  When I was a teen with my own first car, I noticed that my mother wasn't locking her car doors.  I immediately brought her attention to it, asking why she wouldn't want to protect herself from theft.  Her answer was two-fold.  First, why create an obstacle for the thief to create more damage (ie - having to break the window to achieve success) and more importantly, she said, "besides, if they want or need something from my car and they need it so badly that they are forced to steal it, they can have it."  At the time, I didn't even realize how Buddhist this is.

Here are a few examples of short zen stories:  

The Moon Cannot Be Stolen
A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. "You have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift." The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, " I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."

and another

The Thief who Became a Disciple 
One evening as Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras a thief with a sharp sword entered, demanding either money or his life.  Shichiri told him: "Do not disturb me. You can find the money in that drawer." Then he resumed his recitation.  A little while afterwards he stopped and called: "Don't take it all. I need some to pay taxes with tomorrow."  The intruder gathered up most of the money and started to leave. "Thank a person when you receive a gift," Shichiri added. The man thanked him and made off.  A few days afterwards the fellow was caught and confessed, among others, the offense against Shichiri. When Shichiri was called as a witness he said: "This man is no thief, at least as far as I am concerned. I gave him money and he thanked me for it."  After he had finished his prison term, the man went to Shichiri and became his disciple.
These examples show us how kindness has more power than anger.

If media could get it right, they have the power to reshape how we see the world.  They go after the hype and drama, because sadly, it gets more ratings!  And ratings equates to dollar signs.

This bears repeating...
"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."  Wayne Dyer

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