It’s a known maxim that in most circles, certainly in your professional life, “Don’t talk about abortion and religion.”
Well, they were right about the value of talking about abortion - abortion is a medical procedure, not something that can really be argued. It is what it is. Which is why the conversation must be centered around a woman’s freedom to choose what happens to their body. And I can’t help thinking that every person who decries themselves to be against the right to choose, would never want anyone telling them what they should do with their own bodies.
A conversation about religion also has two talking points with only one debatable. First, individual religious beliefs. I may believe this and you may believe that, and we both have a right to believe however we want. Many people in this world have faith in Gods with different names, and their faith and devotion gives them a center, solace and a positive force in their lives. And then there’s organized religion.
Which Wikipedia defines: “Organized religion, also known as institutional religion, is religion in which belief systems and rituals are systematically arranged and formally established. Organized religion is typically characterized by an official doctrine (or dogma), a hierarchical or bureaucratic leadership structure, and a codification of rules and practices.” And if the words, “institutional, systematically and hierarchal” weren’t enough to raise a red flag… it’s the word “Dogma” that should get your attention. Dogma: “A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.”
As any agnostic will tell you, for millennia, scholars and religious leaders have been trying to prove or disprove the existence of God, and no one has been successful. Which leaves us with one group of people that firmly believe that their beliefs should be everyone’s beliefs… all based on something that they believe is “incontrovertibly true”.
Dogma is the driving force of cultism - not only religious cults, but any cult where misplaced and excessive admiration for a person and their beliefs reels in susceptible, unwary people. And when participants become indoctrinated to a specific dogma, it becomes their world, thwarting any individual movement toward developmental growth.
In my coaching practice and anti-racism activism, determining where a person stands developmentally, greatly aids me in my mission to open minds to new perspectives, through assisting people to adopt a blank slate learning mentality. When I identify where the person in front of me sits on the developmental scale - how they see the world and how their current view limits them, it allows me to ask self-discovery questions aimed at broadening their developmental perspectives.
The Vertical or Adult Developmental Scale, refers to how a person’s thinking capacity and emotional intelligence broadens and deepens through a series of stages, specifically, our ability to think in more complex, strategic, systemic, and interdependent ways. For instance, one of the developmental goals of my work is assisting people to take in a number of perspectives simultaneously, while still holding on to their own, without making any of them wrong or bad. Without judgement.
To do so, it will serve us to pause and question whether what we’re about to decide, say or do is based on subjective thinking - our stories, assumptions, opinions and what we think others will think of us… or objective thinking - a more inclusive viewpoint based on knowing that the world is bigger than just ourselves and that seeking to understand the world through a more clinical lens will lead to more equitable and effective outcomes.
When learning more about Racism and all Oppression, most White people have little experience and knowledge about what it’s like to live in the shoes of the oppressed. What we think we know becomes, “How it is.” So shedding our preconceived stories, our implicit biases, is crucial to learning and teaching Social Justice work.
Yes, it’s easier said than done. Changing this paradigm begins with developing the simple habit to pause between stimulus and response. Again, it’s not easy. And even once you develop the pausing habit, you’ll still slip back into subjective thinking occasionally, and that’s okay. We’re human and have been conditioned from day one.
And none of this thinking that I share with you is mine or new.
I study secular Buddhist wisdom. Between the fourth and sixth centuries BCE, Buddhist thinkers introduced the concept of what contemporary author Lama Surya Das, explains as the Three Poisons or Three Fires - the afflictive states of mind referring to negative or conflicting emotions that are responsible for all of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
The first, “Ignorance of the Truth,” prescribes that, “We don’t perceive the truth of how things actually are directly without distortion or illusion. Instead we see things how we want them to be. We tell ourselves stories and live in our fantasies.”
Number Two: Attachment. Whether we’re attached to a person, objects, compulsive habits, status, money, ambition, our fantasies… “Often attachments take over our lives,” and “We become so attached to something or somebody that we become totally dependent and forget who we are.”
Third, Aversion. Simply, it’s about what we decide we dislike. Whether it’s someone's behavior, an unpleasant experience or just not getting what we want. “Most frequently, we form aversions or dislikes in response to frustrated attachments.”
These three poisons work together resulting in unhappiness, dissatisfaction and pain. As Das shares, “Because we are ignorant of the truth we think we can be made happy by fulfilling our attachments to a specific person, place, thing or feeling. Inevitably, we are disappointed and the aversion, dislike or even hatred rears its ugly head.”
The good news: The answer has been in front of us for over a millennia.
The not so good news: We still haven’t learned it.
As mentioned in a previous blog, “Blow it all up and start over,” racism will not end in my lifetime unless we blow everything up and build a new society that equally distributes wealth, services and goods.
And as challenging and overwhelming that concept seems, the answer, as to most grand efforts, begins with a small step - building one ally at a time. Our real power as individuals is the power we have over ourselves.
Acquirring the values of an Ally starts with developing a blank slate learning mindset. Dismantling racism and all oppression will take a concerted effort and strategy, but it begins with our individual ability to break free from what we think we know.
We all need to seek to understand, to let curiosity drive us - versus our default, seeking to be understood.
Yes, there is a lot we cannot control in this world.
Yet, every good thing we can accomplish, regardless of scale, begins within the boundaries of our individual minds... which with consistent work, we can control.