Wisdom from the Traditions

Daily Life | democracy, citizenship

November 07, 2016

view from underneath the Statue of Liberty with blue sky above

Max Ostrozhinskiy, Unsplash

As we explore our new mission to help build the spiritual foundation for a loving world, we’re attuned to its particularity in various aspects of our day-to-day experience. One such domain is democracy, both as a concept and a lived experience. This election season—with its year plus of breaking news and early morning tweetstorms—is just one contributing factor to our need for introspection and conversation about the health of our democracy. But what does it mean to have a loving democracy? Are love and democracy antithetical? And a spiritual ground that supports us all in our civic and democratic life, is it possible? If so, what might it look like?

These are some of the questions we recently posed to a group of guests helping us consider the topic of healing the heart of democracy. A varied group demographically, our guests offered keen insights, cautionary notes, and passionate perspectives about what we, in our organizations and as citizens, can do to contribute the multiplicity of our voices to improving our country and to being compassionate global citizens.

Most prominent in our discussion was an affirmation that the inner life of mind and spirit is integrally connected with our actions and service in the world, and how this plays out is essential to democracy.

We talked about the importance of having

  • a robust tolerance of disagreement and debate
  • an ability and willingness to compromise
  • an ethic of shared sacrifice and responsibility

Our conversation was peppered with stories, many of them, interestingly, about what we learn as children from parents, teachers, society, and our spiritual experience. Here are a few of the voices from our meeting.

“What are the practices that help foster a healthy democracy? Love, forgiveness, the opportunity to know yourself—that you are good, that you belong, and that you are no better than anyone else. These are the teachings I learned growing up [African American] in segregated Roanoke.”

“As Muslims, we have a responsibility to be representatives of God, so democracy, for me, means bringing a sense of custodianship, of neighborliness, of leading with mercy in relationships and everyday actions.”

We need to cultivate empathy, humility, self-awareness, and an openness to the grief and pain that comes from knowing the truth of our history.

We need communities of faith (not only religious—they can be communities that simply have faith in possibility) that are willing to suffer and that offer us sustenance. We need our convictions to be tempered with humility, love, and forgiveness.”

“We need a passion for the notion of equality—a sense that the divine is within each of us and a respect for the divine within all beings. We must be able to look clear-eyed at the past. We are blinded to our own biases—let's recognize how easily we all do this and have this within us. Let’s acknowledge our fear, power, and privilege. Let's be humble about our fallibility as human beings.”

“There needs to be intention and willingness. We need to cultivate this in our hearts. We must re-imagine America. We didn't have an intent that went awry: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness wasn't originally intended to apply to everyone. We need an intention for the whole. Have we established that humans are innately good?

We need a fundamental re-imagination of who we are and why we're here. Not ‘we won,’ but ‘we’re one.’

The day after the election, we're all still going to be here. Let's unleash the truth of our human nature, [our goodness,] that will move us from doubt, to possibility, to probability, to inevitability.”

This is the first conversation of many that will help us launch more work in the arena of American democracy. Stay tuned for more, and in the meantime we share links to a couple recent practices focused on civility and unity, and invite you to consider what we can do to bring heart to every interaction.