I’ve written about how we live without cable TV, air travel, a second car, dishwasher or cellphone. Now I’m trying to give up not a modern convenience, but rather something that has vexed people for ages: negativity.
No matter how much I simplify my life materially, I cannot achieve serenity as long as I let negative feelings about other people weigh me down. Simple living is a lot more than frugality.
I’m tired of separating people into those who agree with me and those who disagree with me. My political opinions are so eclectic that no one is going to agree with me on everything anyway.
I grew up in Washington, D.C., and have always been interested in politics. But I believe that most issues are complex, not simple, and that well-meaning people can disagree. I’m a Democrat, but I’m not supporting either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. I agree with each one about some things but not others, and I think both have strengths and weaknesses in electability and capacity for being an effective president.
In my 32 years as a journalist in Amherst, I stayed neutral on local issues. In retirement I have occasionally expressed opinions publicly, and now I’m part of a group that wants change in our town. This has sometimes led to draining arguments with people who favor the status quo. Although I still have opinions, contentiousness interferes with my peace of mind, and anger makes me stupid.
Political divisiveness is only part of my challenge. I’ve often divided people in my mind between those I like and those I don’t like — or, worse, those who can be useful to me and those I can ignore. This has not only cut me off from many people and caused me to devalue their essential humanity. It’s caused me to act in ways contrary to my aspirations, to not be true to myself.
I’d like to look at other people’s behavior as an anthropologist might, accepting that everyone is the way they are for a reason. I’d like to ask, “What is this person’s story?” and “What can I learn from this person?” and even “How can I be of use to this person?”
I’m not a Pollyanna, believing things are getting better and better. I know they’re not. But I want to stop expending energy on political and personal differences, because I’ll be more content if I concentrate on the good in other people.
As David Grayson of Amherst wrote 100 years ago, “We are beginning to learn that unity is as much a law of life as selfish struggle, and love a more vital force than avarice or lust of power or place. A wandering carpenter knew it, and taught it, twenty centuries ago.”
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