2012-12-10

There's Our Work

Reactivity in our schools produces increased stress from the negative judgmentalism of peers, which, at the extreme, includes bullying -- and a corresponding inability of bully victims to get unstuck from the role of victim.

Reactivity in our military and police leads to a mentality that, in the extreme, is expressed as “shoot ‘em all and let God sort it out.” Traumatic stress levels can lead to PTSD for the rest of their lives. Some frustration and anger is inherent in the work they do. Absence of skills to manage those feelings is not.

Reactivity shows up in disease rates, and pain, and pain medication, and self-medication with alcohol or drugs, licit or illicit.

Reactivity shows up in gang loyalty to one’s insiders and gang violence toward those seen as rivals.

Reactivity shows up in, “I just don’t understand those people.”

Well, there you go. There’s our work: to understand them. Which includes also understanding ourselves.

There is a way to learn how to manage our reactivity. We don’t suppress it. We don’t judge ourselves, or others, wrong for having a reaction. We don’t indulge the reaction either. We notice it, and are able to make a conscious decision about what to do with that reactive energy.

There is no easy way to health, no magic bullet. It’s not easy to get out and exercise everyday. That’s a hard discipline. But the heart attack you could have prevented hurts a lot more.

It is almost useless to say to someone else – or to ourselves – "Don’t be so reactive." If we haven’t been training ourselves in nonjudgmental awareness, in identifying our feelings, in empathizing with ourselves and with others, then when the reactivity comes – and it does come from time to time for everyone – we have no resources for managing it.

Mindfulness is a crucial resource, if we commit to learn to use it. If a politician can learn it, then we can, too, can't we? Nonviolent communication is another potent resource. By "nonviolent communication," I mean both speaking and listening in ways that at no level treat any being like an object and that at every level affirm every being’s sense of value and security. Acquiring these skills takes work.

Even if we were all really well-trained and practiced at both mindfulness and nonviolent communication, we'd still have problems. Problems, there will always be.
“We will still misplace our keys. We will still forget people’s names. We will still say and do things that may hurt others, including those we love. We will say the exact wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. But in each of these instances, with mindfulness we may do it just a bit less. We may see the humor in our mistakes and be able to laugh at ourselves more. We may be just a little less critical of others, and of ourselves. Or we may deal with our mistakes more quickly and with a more sincere and kind heart. We may more easily forgive the people who have hurt us. We may sit down and have civil political conversations with those who strongly disagree with us.” (Ryan, A Mindful Nation)

* * *
This is part 3 of 4 of "Mindful Nation"
Next: Part 4: "A Mindful Congregation"
Previous: Part 2: "Mindfulness and Reactivity"
Beginning: Part 1: "A Midwestern Congressman Named Ryan"