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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Discord and Reconciliation

 Siddharta Gautama, alias Gautama Buddha, recommended the use of Sangha (community) as one of the two boats to cross the ocean of life with peace and equanimity. The other was Mindfulness.

Human nature is such that when there is a community of people, variations in personalities lead to conflicts and clash. Indeed, this happened during Buddha’s life among his disciples. In order to bring harmony in the Sangha, the bhikkus (early students of Buddha) came up with seven steps. They are:

                Sharing common space (home and land)

                Sharing essentials of life

                Observing the precepts together

                Using ONLY words that contribute to harmony

                Sharing insights and understanding

                Respecting other’s viewpoint

                Not forcing others to follow your viewpoint

Fast forward to the current scene in US, it is painful to hear people in general, politicians in particular, talk as if  they do not belong to the same country. When I reflect on some recent developments on discourses between people, I can see trends in thinking and messaging which have led to these deep discords.

                Name-calling those who do not agree with “our” viewpoint was the first development. This phenomenon was there always in human history. But it became a political tool around the early 1980’s.This is facilitated by a special brand of specialists called the “word-smiths”, who develop emotionally charged words to refer to those who look or think differently.

                Repeat a word thousand times ( make it a slogan) hoping it becomes the truth in the minds of people. This is also a well-known tool in propaganda. We have experienced many examples of this phenomenon  in recent years. When people cling to the "slogan" and do not open their minds, we know what the consequences are. Semanticists have been warning about this for many decades.

                Social media which incubate, propagate and disseminate these and other “mental viruses” is the most recent vehicle for “echo-chambers” and discords.

                One more phenomenon causing discord among people is the general lack of trust of each other. We do not know whom to trust. Even respectable professions such as medicine, respectable organizations such as the Church and our own elected representatives have behaved in ways to undermine our confidence in them. We think we are on our own. Therefore, we seek our own sources of information and end up in “echo chambers” and conspiracy-theory factories.

Now going back to Buddha’s teaching on how to bring harmony in a community, the first step in reconciliation is acknowledging the problem and be open to reconciliation. we must stop calling others with derogatory and demeaning names. We have to stop speaking harmful things and spreading misinformation and rumors. We need to speak the truth. We need to respect each other. We should respect other's viewpoint and their right to have them. We should convince others with facts and reasoning, not by bullying and shouting.

We should remember that we belong, to the same humanity, to the same nation. We have to compromise to get things done.

We must think for ourselves and not be led by propagandists and “word-smiths”.

We must follow the Golden Rule.

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