I deeply believe that humanity’s path out of this time of growing crisis is to not only support a new way of being but to also resist the current social-political-economic system that is killing us and life on the planet. The way I see to resist, however, is with empathy and care. As I understand it, this system has been growing for a very long time as it has spread throughout the world in many civilizations that have come and gone in the sands of time; increasing technological advances shape our human consciousness towards greater materialism, individualism, and control. Our civilization now seems to be decaying through a preponderance of corruption, self-obsession, and greed, as all previous civilizations have done at this stage. This time, however, except for some indigenous populations around the world carrying the ancient wisdom, we are a global civilization that now faces existential threats to all of humanity and much of life on the planet. Some say we are entering (or have entered) a period of Earth’s 6th mass extinction.
We all carry the dysfunction of the current system within us and are part of its death and the birth into something new on the planet. But what role do we take if we want to resist this system and support the arising of a new, healthier one? And how can we bring this way of responding into communication and conversation?
I have been thinking about the word “resistance” a lot lately. It can so easily point to fighting against what we don’t agree with in a way that is unhelpful and counterproductive: resisting with the same “energy” — attitude, mindset — as that which we are fighting. This is the age-old strategy of fighting violence with violence, however subtle, whether verbal or physical, never actually leaving the old system; only, in the end, supporting it. Resistance can also be the illusion and futility of mentally fighting against the reality of what is, thinking things shouldn’t be as they are or should be otherwise. But acceptance, or non-resistance, of what is doesn’t mean powerless resignation about the future.
There are many socially polarizing issues the system provides for us citizens to resist and fight over, such as racism and other social inequalities and injustices, police violence, gun control, abortion, immigration, wearing masks, vaccines. As vitally important and impactful to people’s lives as these are, it seems to me they are the symptoms not the cause, and function like a magician’s sleight of hand (whether intentional or not) to distract us so we don’t focus on the real game that is being played — control over others and the environment, which tragically often takes the form of a colonizing, dominating, destructive and decimating power going back it seems to the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago. Where I see this played out now is the economic system with its competition for money, wealth, capital, and the all-consuming drive of corporate power for profit based in a model of scarcity that generates fear, aggression, and violence.
There is a way to resist that also accepts and loves whole-heartedly. This Way was exemplified and embodied by Mahatma Gandhi in India last century, who successfully resisted British colonialism through what he called the soul force and the living power of “nonviolence,” which inspired other great social leaders such as Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States. This Way is to focus on supporting what is in harmony with the egalitarian world we want to create while also firmly and courageously not supporting or cooperating with anything we see that is not about health, care, kindness and wellbeing for everyone. What is key is doing this with an attitude and feeling of empathic connection and unconditional care for the people doing the things we are resisting.
Even more essential and subtle I believe, is a compassionate understanding of the materialistic system of separation and domination that we humans continue to fall into. It is a system that has grown and evolved for many thousands of years. People come and go play their various roles of “have’s” and “have not’s,” and the system just keeps going, until now, as we collectively face the existential abyss. To think history (including where we are now in history) should have been otherwise, or that those at the top of the hierarchy or those of different political parties and beliefs should have or could have done otherwise is I think a form of counterproductive resistance (i.e. resisting the unalterable reality of the past and present). Mother Teresa would often say that all who are caught up in this system suffer — the wealthy with emptiness and lack of meaning, connection, and peace as well those with lack of resources.
So instead, what happens if we refuse to play this game, and instead play the one that is about true wealth and power — deep relationship, loving and caring for each other, and the meaning and purpose of working to contribute to a healthier world for our family, community, country, everyone? These are what actually fulfill us and bring richness and beauty to our lives. We’ve always known this. We just fall into the trance of materialism, consumerism, and unhealthy comparison and competition. We forget. This is the focus of empathic communication: connecting so we can contribute to one another’s wellbeing, meeting our collective needs together through mutually caring relationship.
I think it starts with practicing this kind of resistance within ourselves in the small moments of our daily lives. The internalized system tells us to fear that we’re not enough. It tells us to do more, possess more, consume more, and to move at an increasingly frenetic pace. It tells us to fear and be outraged by those “others” who are behaving in ways we are told are wrong or even “evil.” It feels like a beautiful act of rebellion to slow down and observe these thoughts in the mind and feel with warm acceptance these sensations and emotions in the body. I can “resist” with empathy, presence, and non-compliance in myself and my relationships, and then in how I relate to the layers of social, economic, and governmental systems of the world of which I am a part. The image in my mind is a ripple of outward-moving rings on the surface of a pond from a dropped pebble. In naturally expanding circles of society, we can support the greater connection, care, cooperation, and sharing being born through us, and withdraw support for whatever we see is not this.
To my mind, Mahatma Gandhi is the greatest example of this resistance. Over time he simplified his life down to the barest essentials so that his very being and all his actions only supported the more just and compassionate world he envisioned. This path of nonviolence can take great courage and vision, a willingness to voluntarily face suffering and even death from noncompliance, and to do this with an open and loving heart. Probably most of us are not going to make such sacrifices or reach such heights of realization, but we don’t have to decide that ahead of time. We can just take one step at a time, transforming our fear, anger and judgments into empathy and compassion, and bring as much awareness as we can to what we are supporting through our communication and our actions, continually asking ourselves what more can we support that is life-giving and enhancing, and what more are we willing to let go, resist, and not comply with that we see as not this? As we say in our training, creating the life and world we envision happens one conversation at a time, with ourselves and others.
For further reading I highly recommend Michael Nagler’s book, The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature.