Welcome to part two of this blog exploring the practice of connecting the non-judgemental self-observation of yoga to our political discourse. If you missed part one, check it out here. This section will dive into action steps you can bring into your daily life and conversations. As I said in part one, these are things I have been using to "walk the talk," so to speak. If any of this discussion resonates with you, I invite you to play with these practices and notice if and how they might shift your own habits, beliefs, and conversations.
Acknowledge Your Bias
We all have biases. We all have prejudices, whether conscious or unconscious. That's called being human and I don't think it's automatically a bad thing. Where we run into trouble is assuming our bias equals fact or when we deny the fact we have any biases in the first place. In this TED talk, the speaker reminds us that "we don't need 'good' people, we need real people." By that she means we don't need people to try to be "good" and bias free, we need people to be honest and courageous enough to face their biases. I think this is such an important point and something I need to practice myself. So, instead of denying any biases (or getting mad at someone for reminding you of them), practice facing them. Practice shining a light on them while releasing judgements toward them or yourself. I'm not going to sit here and pretend it's not going to be uncomfortable. It can be really challenging to see the aspects of ourselves we might not be as proud of. However, on the other side of that discomfort may be opportunities for growth and change.
Explore Your Sources
Confirmation bias is defined as "the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs." We all do it. Whether it's only watching Fox News or exclusively reading the Huffington Post, it's easy to see why we'd tend toward information that agrees with us. The danger, of course, is that we may not be getting the whole story or even factual information. I am constantly amazed at the subtle, and not so subtle, manipulation of information in sources. I was recently looking through two subs on Reddit, one conservative and one liberal. While both subs are pretty active, the stories each chooses to showcase are often completely different. Everything, from the language of the headlines to the pictures in each article, helps to reinforce the bias of the readers. With that said, I think it's difficult, if not impossible, to be completely unbiased. However, it is really important to be aware of them. So start to pay attention to your news sources. Notice the tone, the language, the photos, the headlines, even the stories they choose to cover. Being aware of how biases show themselves can truly transform how we take in and share information.
I think it's an amazing juxtaposition that we have all the information we could hope for at our fingertips, yet anyone can write anything and pass it off as fact. It may seem obvious, but I know I'm not the only one who could use this reminder. Not everything you see is true, not everything you hear is the whole story. As already discussed above, information can be very easily manipulated. Therefore, it is important to practice those critical thinking skills we all have. Even if we've let them get a little dusty. One way I like to practice is with Facebook memes. Even the ones that lean toward my own beliefs are often obviously taken out of context or incomplete. For example, if it's a quote, look up if this person actually said it. What was the context the quote was taken from? What is the bias of the source of the meme and of the information you find? Of course, this can be a time consuming process but I think it's critically important nonetheless. It's how we stay truly informed rather than just placating our egos (as discussed in part one).
Widen Your Perspective
This is really challenging but, again, so important. Whether you lean right, left, Libertarian, Green, or the myriad of realities in between, be open to information from all avenues. If you're liberal, check out conservative sources. If you're conservative, check out liberal sources. Try to see issues from different angles. Without judgement, consider why would someone believe this or vote for that. Learn more about something you don't understand. Talk to friends or family who think differently. Maybe you can exercise your research muscles together as you both learn more about the issues. While this might seem slightly off topic, I recommend checking out this TED talk about a neuroscientist's experience of having a stroke. She talks about watching the right and left hemisphere's of the brain going on or offline. To me, it is a beautiful reminder that we need both sides to function and live fully. Even if you don't end up agreeing with anything you find, do you notice that you're able to have more compassion after this kind of practice? Can you find understanding and empathy, even if you don't find agreement?
At the end of the day, we, every single one of us, are real, flesh and blood human beings with hopes and dreams and tragedies and triumphs. We don't have to be enemies. We don't need to buy in to the same propaganda that justifies wars and genocides. We are all, in the end, in this thing together. Practice the above steps with empathy. Remember that on the other side of those articles, beliefs, and memes are human beings just like you. Without judgement, be open to learning, to being wrong, and give others the same support. Be conscious of how you converse and the tone of what you share on social media. When you choose to speak up, do so with compassion and openness. Lead by example.
The bottom line is that how we vote has real impact on real people and this real planet we all depend on. Elections are so much more than our ego or team colors. So let us set the intention to actively practice compassion, empathy, and intelligence in the face of hysteria and fear mongering. That is how we change the conversation and, to be a little cheesy, how we change the world. I hope this has inspired you as it has inspired me to be more careful, more open, and more thoughtful, now, to November, and beyond.