I stopped making New Year’s Resolutions for a long time, but still enjoy reflecting on the year past and the year ahead. As I grieved for the loss of my mother on New Year’s Day, I also grieved for our democracy, especially after January 6, which all of a sudden seemed so fragile, full of old faults like the electoral college, gerrymandering, lobbying, etc. plus new evil powers like social media that could turn truth on its head. And all the blaming, shaming, hating and anger led up to real physical harm. So, as I turned to reflect on the work ahead in 2021, I allowed myself to roam free and dream, knowing that whatever I dreamed for America would also be good for the world, and who knows we could learn from others for a change.
For some reason, the first word or value that came to mind is “atonement”, and its twin value “humility”. What if we atoned for our sins instead of beating our chests with self-praise, and created reparations for those who were hurt the most? Might that not heal our own souls and make us gentler creatures, less likely to get angry and act on that anger? This is one area where we can learn from the world: in Australia, there is an atonement day for the tragedies inflicted on the Aboriginal population. And South Africa is famous for its truth and reconciliation commissions.
The second word that comes to my mind is “dialogue”, and that goes naturally with the above. Dialogue can heal and where dialogue exists, violence cannot exist (I am trying to remember who said this and when). As polarized as we are- and so many other countries too- we need to find ways to listen to each other with empathy, to feel each other’s emotions and especially others’ fears. Even if those seem outlandish, we must acknowledge that to the other they are real. Could we begin dialogues across the nation that would move us down the anger ladder to at least some level of understanding. If Palestinians and Israelis can do it (as so many NGO’s try including one called The Dialogue Project in NYC that I was a part of), why can fellow citizens not do it? I hope to share more about the dialogue process in my next blog. There is a reason my blog is called Sufi dialogue (www.sufidialogue.com) – I wanted to explore how the commitment to love and “polishing our own mirror” that Sufis are committed to could elevate dialogues to a higher level of purpose and deeper effectiveness.
And finally, COVID19 notwithstanding, the third imperative would be “collaborative action”. We can talk all we want, but to build a pathway to deeper understanding we have to work together in communities to help the needy, the poor, the neglected, the marginalized. That is the truly noble work that all faiths have preached for millennia, and its sacred nature melts away the fear or hate of differences. We move from dislike of differences to true appreciation of the wonderfully wild diversity our Creator bestowed on us all. So, as I look forward to 2021 and a new Administration, I also am excited by all that we- ordinary citizens- can do to shift our culture away from the brink, here and everywhere. We must keep dreaming so our future generations can live in greater harmony and peace.