I had not given much thought to politics when I signed up for a week long Buddhist retreat set to begin the day after the election. I had voted early allowing me to spend Election Day preparing and watching exit polls. The results came in and our side lost, time to move on and wish the new president elect Godspeed.
Pulling onto the road leading to the retreat center I began feeling the quiet set in when the first sign of danger appeared in my windshield as I hummed along with the sound of the wind rustling the brightly colored leaves of autumn, harmonizing with the gentle rumbling of the diesel engine in my pickup. Standing between me and the gatehouse were a Prius, a Mini, and a small car labeled “clean air vehicle.” Easing forward, my senses alert, I was greeted with a look as to say, “Are you running biodiesel?”
Discretely parked at last, I grabbed my bags and chose a path that would make it appear that I arrived in the Smart Car parked next to my front tire. Failing to consider the horn sounding when I locked the doors, my plan was nearly blown; luckily no one seemed to notice.
Settled in and already feeling hints of inner peace fill my being, I walked with a slow pace to the dining hall for the opening meal. I had done a little research a few days prior to make sure I could live without meat for the next week. Savoring a delicious meal of vegetables, salad greens and tofu, my worldly cares began to vanish… and then it happened! Terror gripped my insides as the retreat manager strode into the room and raised her apron revealing a shirt emblazoned with a huge picture of our next president.
The room erupted in a cheer worthy of a Superbowl victory as I made a quick scan of the crowd, hoping to see a kindred spirit in the fast closing space around me. There were none. As a small bead of sweat appeared on my forehead as I made an attempt to stay invisible for fear that if the joyous mob might chase me off the property if they knew I voted for the other guy.
The meal over, I kept my eyes low so the crowd would not sense my fear. I quickened my pace a little to retrace my steps to the dormitory making sure a stray bag of salted right wing nuts had not fallen out of my pocket exposing the possibility of an outsider. I quickly made sure that a stray McCain button had not been left on a shirt and carefully hid the one red t-shirt I had packed under the bed. Safe at last!
That same night in a Dharma talk, (Buddhist teachings, for my conservative friends), one of the instructors referenced a conversation where she caught herself and her friends contemplating how any thinking person could possibly be a conservative. I blushed a little as I reflected on how many times I wondered the same things about liberals. Earlier, before the silence of the retreat began, I had spoken to several seemingly intelligent people, the same ones who cheered for their victory! My mind was spinning with the idea that intelligence and party preference might after all be separate!
As a society, we are inundated with the image that there is a vast gap between liberals and conservatives. The reality is that mathematically, there are more people closer to the center than the combined fringe but it is the fringe gets all the good coverage. We middle folk are simply too boring to cover. Headline: “Man picks up groceries on way home from work”, details at 11! Our lives are just too real for “Reality” television.
The greatest single blessing we have in America is the chance to think as individuals. As surprising as it might sound, most of us desire many of the same things. We often, however, disagree on the best way to accomplish them. Ninety eight percent of Americans do not believe that is right to burn someone’s house down to protest the cutting of a tree. That same ninety eight percent is against putting a pillow case over your head and burning a cross in front of a black church.
Sadly, these are the images that are projected by each side. All conservatives are just war loving, gun toting racists! All liberals are just tree hugging, big government socialists! It makes good press, whatever that means, but it is simply not the case. We have the right to fight for what we believe but also the responsibility to respect the views of others. The world is an unhappy place and our own anger simply feeds suffering. We should try to seek the middle ground by accepting that we can disagree without fighting.
The next time you talk to some babbling idiot, deemed so because they do not agree with your views, try to lighten up a bit. It does not mean you have to agree with them. Of course if you really want to show how smart you are, always agree with me!