Since the US presidential election people across the whole world have registered some kind of reaction – some pleased, but most of them probably not. And now, after a seemingly interminable campaign, made longer by the sheer volume of negativity on all sides, we hear the call on both sides of the political divide that Americans should come together as a nation. How?
These kinds of exhortations are well-meant but essentially useless if we as individuals don’t know how to deal effectively with our negative attitudes towards others. One of the greatest problems facing humanity is the way all of us see other people as different from ourselves. This is hardly new, but as the world becomes more crowded and all the other problems become more intractable, the way we see each other becomes increasingly important.
There are obvious extreme examples across the world, where people who define themselves as different from each other are killing and displacing the ‘different’ people in large numbers, but the principle was just as much in evidence during the election. And it still is. If Americans are to ‘come together as a nation’ then we have to try coming together as individuals, and seeing people on the other side as just like us.
It is possible to transform our negative attitudes towards others into something positive, but we have to know how. It’s not simply a matter of wanting it, or nodding our heads in agreement when we hear the current president and his successor exhorting us to put our differences aside. And yet we can probably all see how the whole world could be different if many of us were willing and able to make the effort.
I can say, from years of experiment and experience, that the practices I was shown as a young man for transforming our negative attitudes towards others do work, provided first that we actually want to, and second, that we know how. And I’m not pretending it’s easy. Most people, myself included, find it hard to let go of criticism and even condemnation of others, and we have to begin by seeing these attitudes in ourselves and then wishing to do something about them. One of our aims in the Skills-for-Life program is to show people the ‘how’. The ‘wish’ to is up to each one of us.