writing on suffering and awakening

Better political leadership starts with us

Our leaders are increasingly dishonest, greedy and cruel in their actions. A few recent examples: the House of Representatives voted to pass a bill that would take healthcare away from the poor while cutting taxes for the rich. Since then, the president has fired his FBI director to stymie an investigation into possible collusion with a foreign power during his campaign, and the attorney general has ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest possible sentences for people charged with drug crimes.

This is really shocking behavior. The highest levels of our government are saying that they don’t view many of us as worthy of respect, compassion and honesty. It’s scary, hurtful and sad.

For those of us who aren’t in positions of great political power, what are we to do? We can start by remembering that however unimportant we may seem, we too have great power, should we choose to use it.

Whenever we see one person acting to harm another, it’s helpful to remember Christ’s words on the cross: “forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” He understood that if someone does us wrong, it’s because they do not see the truth that they are us and we are them. They’re sick, in a way. 

Of course, so are most of us. The dishonesty, greed and cruelty we see on the national stage exists in our own lives as well, diminished in scale but not in impact. How many of us sometimes lie to each other, choose not to share our bounty and hurt one another needlessly? I do and you probably do too.

We can and should forgive ourselves for all of it. We can’t change the past (or control the future). What we can do is acknowledge our past misdeeds, let ourselves off the hook for them, and commit to acting with compassion in the present moment. The more we're honest, share with one another, and treat each other with kindness, the more we heal the sickness. That healing affects the world around us and even makes its way to the halls of government. 

It’s tempting to see what’s going on in our country and just get angry. I spend a lot of time on Twitter looking for the latest outrage; and indeed, there is always another one. But that doesn’t really help anything. What can is seeing that if we get really angry about someone else’s behavior, it usually means they are in some way reflecting our own. 

I get angry when Congress threatens to take away our health care, but then pretend I don’t see the man begging for change on the street. But one begets the other: countless small selfish actions in our everyday lives join together to create the big ones we see on the news. 

I believe our country needs a real change in leadership. But I also believe we can’t expect our leaders to act skillfully and with compassion if we don’t do it ourselves.

Ian Cooper