The Vaccine Against Despair

“Never to succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter.  As you press for justice be sure to move with dignity and discipline using only the instruments of love.” Dr. Martin Luther King

My day job is a bookbinder restoring and repairing antique tomes. Regularly, I receive email newsletters from Steve Siegel, a supplier of specialty leather for the trade. In them he promotes his products and gives useful and interesting information about its sourcing and production, much of which originates in Africa using traditional methods. This week, something else was on his mind:

I’ve sold leather, shared stories, connected with people from all over the world, and made friends. In a nutshell, that’s how I could sum up my career. I have enjoyed the process of learning, listening, and sharing as I have communicated with others from all walks of life. In looking back, I have had many experiences where my views – political, religious, or other – didn’t align with those I have met but we could share our stories and discuss our views, even disagree, but at the end of those conversation there was still respect and a friendly connection. 

I’m saddened to say that I have been seeing this friendly connection in our society slipping quickly away. The temperament now seems to favor disconnect instead of connection. Hatred instead of love. Enemies instead of friends. If viewpoints don’t align, the friendship and mutual respect seems to end. Are you noticing this, too?

Recently, circumstances in my life have given me an opportunity to see things from a new perspective. I might be just one person but I am hoping to encourage a change and I have an offer for you if you’d like to join me. Would you like to get a coupon for $100 off your next order? Here’s how: 

For one day, a full 24 hours, if you find yourself in a conversation that seems to encourage these negative feelings, don’t continue it. Here are some ideas of what to do instead. 

  • Remove yourself from the conversation so you don’t add to the hate
  • Change the subject
  • Ask about the person, how are they doing, how is their family – not about their political views or societal opinions which are usually negative
  • Remember something nice about them from a previous interaction and tell them about your memory

Those are just a few ideas, you can do whatever you feel encourages connection instead of hate. At the end of the 24 hours, send me a quick email at telling me what you did to stop negativity from spreading.

I will send a coupon for $100 off to the first 20 people who email me. Together maybe we can work to re-establish friendly connections in our families, our communities and our work places.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you! 

Steve Siegel

            Steve’s contest may be over, the coupons sent, but the challenge remains. Division and separation yield unconcern for the “other” at best, hatred at worst. In a world and a time when so many self-identify as ‘red’ or as ‘blue’, as ‘this’ or ‘that’ and define every interaction as a zero-sum game of winners and losers we are all de-humanized. The bitterness Dr. King warns about drifts into the mind coloring experience, thoughts, words, and actions.

            The Buddhist teaching on interdependence illustrated in the image of Indra’s Net informs us we are seamlessly connected with everyone and everything in the world. There is nothing that is not part of us. We are the African herdsman, the corporate lawyer, the Mexican farmworker, the hedge fund manager. Literally. Not metaphorically. Each of them, and all others, provide us with the sustenance we require to maintain our lives.

            It is easy to hate that which one does not know. Walling ourselves off from the lives of those who are unlike us is the agar in the petri dish that allows the virus of hate to breed and spread unchecked. Dr. King’s ‘instrument of love’, on the other hand, is nurtured by breaking through the walls of self-imposed identity, entering in conversation and relationship with those who are beyond our familiar sphere, seeking and finding commonality of heart. It is apparent there is much to be done to heal our world. Discouragement, bitterness, and despair lurk in ambush as we consider and engage the vast task of external transformation. Internal transformation, engaging in our Buddhist practice, is the protective vaccine and provides the nourishment for the journey. Internal transformation is nourished by action. Steve’s challenge provides a simple beginning.

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