“Please don’t talk about politics” has become a popular mantra.
That’s because it seems there’s little safe middle conversational ground on the subject these days. One of Einstein’s greatest insights was that space and time are a continuum, which is a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct. It was a stroke of genius that allowed him to make that connection, and these days a stroke of genius may be called for to find adjacent elements between the distinct extremes in our global political culture.
The old nostrum for avoiding conflict at work or around the dinner table pairs politics and religion as topics to be shunned. Nowadays the sacred can seem like the safer topic; the profane seems to invite, well, profanity. But when we avoid talking about politics, we surrender the arena to people who have fixed ideas and/or underlying agendas and who are only too willing to shape the conversation.
Our abdication springs from an understandable desire to avoid discomfort. But for the body politic to recover from its current crisis of contentiousness, some of us need to be willing to wade into troubled waters without roiling them further. One way to do that is to reflect on what constitutes leadership excellence and consider how we might use mindful leadership practices to help us ameliorate aggression. The capacity to lead with excellence derives from the ability to connect – with oneself, others, and the community – and the ability to skillfully guide or initiate change.
Mindfulness meditation practice uses time and space to cultivate connection. When we take the time to check in with our inner state, we learn something. Churning after the latest news report or tweet, we may be so caught up in reaction that we can’t discriminate what has actually happened from what we think and feel about it. Mindfulness, even if it’s just attending to a few breaths, can create the space that brings us a more nuanced perspective on events.
A nuanced perspective gives us a better chance of connecting with others. Aside from the relatively few human beings who seek to harm others as a way of gaining benefit for themselves or their causes, most of us have something in common: we are all trying our best to live wholesome and decent lives. Even though our opinions about what constitutes that may vary, the realization can serve as a springboard for reflection: if I am not willing to assume that the other person is either stupid or evil, what might make them hold the views they do?
The more we practice stretching our political imaginations this way, the more we can help heal our communities, rather than contributing to further fracturing. When those with the most extreme views – at either end of the political or religious spectrums – try to impose their will on everyone, the conflicts within our communities, our countries, and our global society only worsen.
Change, the one constant factor in everything we experience, is accelerating at a rate unparalleled in human history. So is our capacity to act in ways that affect others. Even Einstein might be amazed. When we allow an inner onslaught of thoughts and emotional reactivity to gain traction and gather momentum in our minds, we contribute to a critical mass of confusion for humanity.
Alternatively, we can interrupt that momentum. Unless you’re a physicist, you may not have thought of Einstein’s insight – that time and space are a continuum – as something applicable to you personally. However, with a little practice and some reflection, the inextricability of time and space can be an invaluable ally in cultivating leadership excellence. We invite its assistance by taking the time to create a little space.
And who knows, we might even come to enjoy talking about politics.