Politics, Prayers and Peace

Let’s face it: 2018 was exhausting. Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to talk to each other, how to be together, why we need each other, and why communicating matters. As the holiday season comes to a close, I am now braced for the new year with the federal government shut down, Washington politicians at an impasse, and the generous and joy-filled spirit of the holidays quickly fading on social media.

A reboot is in order.

Perhaps we are careering into chaos so that we can ultimately propel ourselves forward. As Picasso said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” Maybe all this nasty is creating space for a bold new world.

In reality, the old days weren’t a picnic for everyone. My own understanding of communicating consciously is deepening as I meditate on the truth of the past. During the Commit!Forum this fall, I opined to the gathering of leaders in corporate social responsibility and sustainability about what it will take to get us back to civility, to a time when Washington worked across the aisle, to an era when Americans could travel to the Thanksgiving table without fear and dread. I was reminded (aka “schooled”) by the very insightful Sherrie Deans, executive director the National Basketball Players Association Foundation, that we can’t go backward because too many people weren’t really invited to that table. She’s right: there is no civility when voices are silenced.

And did Congress really function more effectively in the past? During my first week working on Capitol Hill, a very decent male colleague cautioned me against ever being in the office alone late in the evening, as there were no laws in place offering recourse to women who were victims of sexual assault. Nothin’ civil about a workplace where women are in danger. So the halcyon days of yore are a myth, but the incessant rancor of today impedes progress. Communicating “at” others—in attack mode, rather than “with” others around shared identity, values and goals, is not sustainable. We need to communicate consciously and inclusively on a level we have never before achieved as a nation.

Whole swaths of our population haven’t had a voice. The #Metoo, anti-bullying and other movements…even the rise of populism…came about because large groups of people feel they haven’t had a voice and have found the courage to drive the conversation and demand change. Maybe this loud chaos is creating space for more people at the table. Honesty is not meant to be comfortable, it’s meant to shed light. And with light there can be growth. We aren’t close to healing, but just maybe all this screaming is going to remind us of the need to listen as part of an open, honest dialogue.

To address the major challenges facing the world today, we need everybody at the table. Even those with whom we disagree. Our inability to achieve an acceptable level of civility, inclusion and honesty to date does not preclude our ability to do so today.

So where do we start? Not by expecting others to change. Change starts at home. Progress will begin at the individual level, when each of us takes a long, hard look at ourselves and identifies what needs to change. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self.”

How do we learn to communicate consciously? First, by looking inward. The most important conversations you’ll have are those you have with yourself.

Over the holidays, a dear friend invited me to midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. After the first hour of glorious music, as mass was about to begin, former NY Major Rudy Guiliani stepped into the pew in front of mine. My immediate reaction was dread. I do not agree with a lot of what he stands for and is doing these days. My (fortunately short-lived) knee-jerk assumption was that his presence would distract me from the beauty of the celebration. Then I asked myself: would it make me a more committed liberal to send negative energy, to judge? That did not sit well with my soul. And there I was in church, praying for peace in the world. How hypocritical that would have been. I quickly realized this was a teaching moment for me. To communicate, to hear and see each other, we need to find common ground. We need to focus first and repeatedly come back to what connects us…in the case of me and the mayor, the beauty and meaning of Christmas.

In the order of the Catholic mass, immediately after the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, the celebrant invites participants to offer each other the sign of peace. We make eye contact. We shake hands. We say “Peace be with you” to our neighbors. This interlude has an immediacy; it makes prayers for peace real. The mayor and I were positioned one person beyond arm’s length from each other, but he turned around and we locked eyes. With true, warm smiles we wished each other peace and nodded to each other. In a sacred space. True to the intention of that moment in the mass. On a night considered by us to be most holy and all about peace. I left mass calm, collected and maybe a tiny bit wiser. I was grateful for the exercise of putting my prayers for humanity and peace on earth into practice.

If we want to promote civility, we must advocate for peace. And we must emulate the behavior we want the world to espouse. If speaking your piece inhibits peace, take a breath. Center. Expand. See the humanity in others.

Praying for peace in the world this new year.


Ellen Yui