By Deepak Chopra, MD
Political divisiveness has become so extreme that over half of Democrats and Republicans find it impossible to conceive of voting for the other party. I read that recently, which coincides with a belief on both sides that electing the other party's candidate would be dangerous for the country. What this signifies, I think, is classic us-versus-them thinking. Our own fellow citizens have become "the other" simply by their politics. A kind of tribalism has grown up in our democratic society, and the new segregation along party lines means that many people don't even have a friend who votes the other way.
So what happens when people identify completely with their own tribe? The following things become true:
- It's okay and even desirable to hurt "them."
- Their feelings aren't as deep or human as ours.
- They want to hurt us first and worse than we want to hurt them; therefore, we are always in danger of attack.
- Hostility is a normal way to feel.
- Morality lies with us, injustice, bigotry, and unfairness with them.
If you can identify with any of these symptoms--and which of us cannot? --the way to healing is clear. Become part of the solution by consciously changing your tribal attitudes, words, and actions. The model for such a shift doesn't have to be spiritual. If Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg can cross the right-left divide to befriend the late Justice Antonin Scalia, by comparison much less is at stake in my personal politics. In other words, becoming part of the solution is appealing if we sincerely want a healed society.
The difficulty is that tribal thinking carries with it a package of benefits: you get to belong, to agree with others, to share a common foe, to feel self-righteous and angry at the same time. These are powerful incentives not to change. I noticed that editorials stated speaking of Donald J. Trump as sad and lonely instead of dangerous and crazy only when the polls turned overwhelmingly against him. Such safe compassion risks very little. Walking away from your tribe seems to risk much, including the worst loss of all, loss of identity.
But in medicine we have a term, secondary benefit, that applies here. When a child has his tonsils removed, the secondary benefit is that he gets to stay at home and eat ice cream. In other words, something nice offsets the illness. People feel sorry for you when you have a life-threatening disease and often forgive all your faults. That's a secondary benefit, yet it doesn't overcome the reality that, indeed, you are very sick.
Likewise, tribal thinking brings secondary benefits, but one shouldn't overlook that "us versus them" thinking is toxic and unhealthy to begin with. Where else did every poisonous legacy of war, violence, long-held resentments, and sworn enmity come from? By giving up tribalism, you become a unit of peace consciousness. I can see no other way to achieve genuine healing. You must first see that the world's wrongs have their seed in you. Only then does the familiar axiom of "Become the change you want to see in the world" stop being a cliché.
In the yogic tradition of India, a crucial quality related to peace consciousness is Ahimsa, usually translated as non-violence. Ahimsa is associated with Mahatma Gandhi and the non-violent civil rights movement associated with Martin Luther King. But at heart Ahimsa is about the bond of loving compassion that is natural in each of us when we abandon the seductive allure of false consciousness, in particular the state of separation that engenders all divisions, either inside ourselves or in the outside world. We accept "us versus them" ultimately because there is a "them" inside ourselves. It consists of the shadow self we hide form and deny, which harbors hatred, fear, aggression, and the dread of death.
When we can't face our own shadow, it gets embodied in figures like Trump who gleefully let the dark side of human nature romp in public. As much as right-thinking people are appalled by him, Trumpism strikes a chord in everyone, because we all have a shadow. It may seem as if I've drawn a tenuous thread connecting a flamboyant political sham to something deep in human nature. But the connection is real, and so is the possibility of healing. Bringing in the light, however you define that phrase, is the way to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. The wounds in consciousness can only be healed through consciousness.
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are Super Genes co-authored with Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com