Less Hate and More Tolerance
I am concerned about the state of the world and dismayed at the divisiveness and hate. It is too easy to fall into the habit of “othering” when the world feels in peril. We need someone to blame, so others who are different are an easy target. We are being encouraged to see each other as the problem, and it is easy to think of the “other” as less than human when we make them responsible for our ills. We all do it, to some degree or other.
Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, teacher, and writer has a practice that she uses to nip that tendency in the bud. The practice is called “Just like me.”
It is so easy to forget that everyone is basically the same. We all want to feel safe, loved, and worthy. We want to be free from fear, worry and pain. We want to feel like we make a difference in the world. We are all humans who are just trying to figure out how to be happy.
It is easy to dismiss others when their way of trying to find happiness looks so different from our way. It is easy to call people idiots, to deride their intelligence, to see them as the problem when we are struggling to find the things we need to feel secure and safe in our world.
When we say “Just like me” we remind ourselves of our shared human plight. We are reminded that these are people who want the same things we want. This seems simple, but it is so powerful.
Recently, I decided to employ this practice on a long road trip and was amazed how it shifted my attitude toward others — and also how often I fall into judgement and pigeon-holing people.
When a driver went by with their car plastered in political stickers for the party I don’t vote for, I started mumbling “what a f’ing idiot.” Then I stopped and said, “Oh. Just like me. Just like me, he wants to feel safe in this world. He wants to feel like he has some control. Just like me he is doing the best he can.” Then I said a short Metta prayer for that driver. “May you be well. May you be safe. May you be free from fear.”
It felt like a huge shift for me. Suddenly, I did not see this guy as the enemy, but someone who, just like me, wants to be happy. He’s trying to figure it out, too. I may not agree with him, but he is not my enemy.
There were other moments when drivers were doing something stupid and instead of my usual mental rant about what a moron they are, I remembered — they are just like me. That does not mean they weren’t being stupid on the road. But it softened my response to their stupidity. Just like me, they have somewhere they need to be. Just like me, they may have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Just like me, they are doing the best they can.
It opened my heart, giving me the opportunity to send love and blessings out into the world instead of curses, anger and blame. There is enough of that in the world right now. If I want the world to be a kinder, gentler place, I have to be kinder and gentler, myself.
When I get angry because someone posts something I disagree with on my social media feed, I stop and recognize them as a human — just like me. They are trying to feel safe, trying to find a way to quell their fear. When I remind myself of this, I diffuse some of the negative emotion I feel toward them. I may still think what they believe is dumb, or even dangerous, but I don’t have to make them the enemy.
When I see someone without a mask, if I start with “Just like me” I can be reminded that this is a human who is feeling a need to feel in control, and while I think their way is selfish and unwise, I diffuse my anger by remembering their humanity. Just like me, they are making decisions based on their beliefs. JUST LIKE ME. Do I think they are making a mistake? Yes, but I can skip the part where I turn them into an enemy.
I hope to continue this practice and learn to always see others as fellow humans, struggling to find their way, just like me. If I want to stop the divisiveness and hatred I have to start with me. We are all more alike than different. I am beginning to see that everyone is just trying to find happiness, just like me. By dropping the habit of making others the enemy when they don’t share my beliefs, I can begin to see ways to reach across the divide. I don’t have to be afraid to let others be different. I can be a force for less hate and more tolerance. Because just like me, everyone wants a better world.