My first mistake today was climbing into the bathtub and picking up the May 31st, 2010 edition of Canada’s weekly news magazine, Macleans, rather than the copy of Stephen Mitchell’s The Second Book of the Tao, in which I’d thought to have a nice, long spiritual soak along with the hot water, and possibly bubbles. My second mistake was not putting the magazine down after reading On why Christians should try to convert Muslims, instead continuing on to Mark Steyn’s editorial, We’re too broke to be this stupid. My third mistake was rousing myself from the bathtub with said periodical and making my way to the computer where I found the latter article on the Macleans website and posted a thought-provoking, sublimely malicious comment.
I learned how to write in political forums. I learned to be precise and ruthless with language to escape the mockery of others. I learned to heap artful malice upon the ideas of the fools who debated with me. Politics engenders a distinct and unsubtle flavour of anger, hatred, derision and spiritual malfeasance. Political minds spin lies, bend statistics, toss in red herrings and strawmen, and omit the truth in order to sustain or obtain their agendas. Often these are agendas to which they no longer have a personal, moral, objective or subjective allegiance. Most importantly, people who immerse themselves in politics lose themselves to the false spiritual belief in doing wrong for the greater good. That wrong can be as simple as intellectually beating someone up in front of an audience to make themselves (most likely) or their own ideas (least important, generally) look smarter.
We can’t. Certainly not within the state of politics today, steeped in bitter, ruthless malice as it is. Perhaps there are better people out there than me, people who can engage politically and withstand the urge to sink to the loathesomely low quality of political discussion dominating the media, cafes, classrooms and living rooms. I can’t. “Never argue with a fool,” a wise friend once advised, “the audience can’t tell the difference.” Eventually I realised that nearly all political arguments between opposing sides devolve into foolishness, and most everyone who engages in them comes across as a fool. Chief among those fools was me.
Perhaps the most important spiritual transformation of my life was the turn away from politics. I can’t tell you a specific moment, but I realised the tide had already turned as I was writing Courage during a bicycle tour of China in 1998. The transformation has been long, drawn out. Certain events like 9/11 could still draw me out and I’d write something like Reciprocal Madness. Over the years, though, I’ve all but withdrawn from politics, and infrequently allow myself to discuss it, or even read about it. When I do, I usually right myself before posting a nasty rebuke on some mainstream news media website.
You might ask, “have you given up on the idea that we can change society, Patrick?” No, I haven’t. Far from it. “Then,” you might continue, “how can you do that without engaging politically?”
Be the change you want to see in the world.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
I want to see a more spiritual, loving world. So I will be more spiritual, more loving. This is the only real path for positive change in the world.
You can’t roll up your sleeves and make people more spiritual and more loving. You cannot make someone love your way of being by deriding theirs. However, people can see the benefits of a more spiritual loving path in the examples shown by others. Politics and war will not bring spiritual peace, nor can we force hatred from the will of a people at the point of a gun, or with the force of legislation. All such attempts amplify our own hatred, our own malice, our own fear, and theirs as well. Disarm hatred, fear and violence in the way that all great spiritual teachers tell us to: disarm with love, loving kindness.
The Indian revolution was a peaceful one, driven primarily by the politically spiritual practice of peaceful non-violence and non-action. The end of The Irish Troubles came when enough people set the politics of hatred aside long enough to clasp hands in unison, and made peace the only ‘winning’ option socially and politically. The Soviet Union collapsed when the will of the people for change welled up into the people who held power, and the oppressive political and military structures that had oppressed millions for decades simply evaporated as police, soldiers and politicians stood by, even joined, the people as they dismantled the walls of division, both physical and metaphorical, with hardly a shot fired.
Throughout human history these seemingly political changes are unprecedented. I believe they represent the leading edge of a wave of spiritually motivated changes shaping human destiny, human evolution. So, I will continue to avoid making witty, derisive remarks in response to malicious political editorials, and forgive myself the occasional mistaken foray into political ‘debate’. I’m still learning this new, better way. As are we all.
Now… out for a bike ride…some time with family…and I think tonight I’ll crack open The Second Book of the Dao as I’d intended to earlier, and leave the weekly newsmagazines for those who still care to think that way.