Roy Mitchell looks at the practicalities of finding balance. This is the fifth part of a longer discussion on matters of diversity and inclusion which started here.
In previous discussions we have seen just how important our underlying points of view are in determining our compassionate response to others. The dominant underlying point of view in society at large appears to be very largely based on the idea of competition, which examination shows leads to a loss of trust in each other and perhaps an undue focus on our own worthiness and entitlement to our status, position and primacy of our own value system. It largely sets people against each other, both overtly and covertly.
Changing this point of view to one based on realising and accepting the reality of ‘that of God’ being equally within all and that no one outward way of being is either necessary or required is an important first step to building trust and encouraging acceptance and diversity rather than using difference to obtain competitive advantage for self. All ways of being in this equality view lead to a realisation of ‘God’ within all. This frees us as individuals from having to control or modify the behaviour of others to increase our own comfort.
‘Beauty in working together”: artwork by Vanessa Mitchell.
What in practical terms does this mean? You will recall that Hazrat Inayat Khan, to whom I referred earlier, acknowledges that love of your society nation or group is a good thing as it shows a capacity for love beyond the self. However he cautions that too much love for your society nation or group is not good if it excludes love for others different from your society nation or group (and I will add different from yourself). He advises moderation in all things as the best course. Here is an example from my own experience of what these factors all meant to me in practical terms.
I find that one where a ‘comfort loss’ occurs is when I meet homeless people and beggars. I have always sought to help. I have done this in many ways; by giving to homeless charities, giving small sums of cash directly to beggars, engaging in conversation with beggars, and supporting those political parties who seem to best offer the prospect of greater equality across society. In many instances these outward actions did nothing to increase my comfort; nor did it appear to do anything to change the circumstances of those I sought to help. For example charities advised that money should not be given direct to beggars as they often had issues with drug or drink abuse and I would only be allowing them to indulge this abuse. If I wanted to give direct to beggars the charities advised buying vouchers which the beggar could redeem against services offered by the charity such as a night shelter or food café. Against this, homeless people complained to me that the charities paid large salaries to their staff, had plush offices and the accommodation they offered was neither safe or comfortable. I was also on the receiving end of verbal abuse on several occasions when trying to dispense the charities vouchers which I had purchased. I also became suspicious of the bona fides of some beggars who appeared to be frauds.
We were, it seemed to me, all trapped in a morass of distrust. I was at a loss to know what to do. Whom and what should I trust. Seeing all parties as equals and trusting all to find their own way offered me an avenue to show respect to all, including myself. I did not need to make a judgement about what to do and when to do it and who best should receive it. I would trust my compassion and the urge to be of service as it arose and give what I felt I could that was comfortable for me to give, without any expectation or conditions attached. I gave the recipient responsibility for their use of my gift as only they knew or could know what their journey towards finding their ‘God’ within was.
So today I continue to give to homeless charities and to beggars, and to talk to both without expectation of any difference my giving will make. My gifts are generally received with gratitude and respect and my need to be of service and share is met. The recipients have in their different ways taught me the value of respecting their individual choices, whilst also allowing me to make my own choice as to how I can or should fit in with that or not as the case will be. For me this is moderation in action. By not setting conditions other than trusting to loving moderately around my behaviour and that of others, the focus has become taking responsibility for my own comfort and giving the responsibility for the comfort of others to themselves.
Finding our way to be comfortable with diversity and inclusion is our own responsibility. Changing others is not our own responsibility. It is for other individuals to choose how they will change.
Respect, I have found begets respect.
There is one other practice which I have found invaluable in helping to find my comfort. This practice is a useful tool to help in instances of anxiety and is useful in all situations involving change or a perceived loss of comfort.
There are four separate aspects: facing up to the issues you are experiencing; accepting the discomfort you feel; identifying and putting in your most comfortable or fairest-to-all point of view or practice; and finally letting more time pass so that the practice has time to work for you.
It is natural to feel resistance to all parts of this practice, especially if changes do not occur quickly, but this only gives us an opportunity to practise “waiting in trust and faith”.
The answers that I have found helped me be more open to those who are different from me may be less than perfect but they do open up a pathway to greater inclusiveness by facing the difficulties present and accepting the rights of all in the situation. Key has been the finding of better or fairer points of view and then letting more time pass by waiting in the silence to see what changes in comfort occur or manifest.
Waiting collectively in the silence is one of the bedrocks of Quaker spiritual practice and it is no accident, I believe, that the silence is open to any and all who wish to enter.
In the sixth and final discussion I will be looking in greater depth at some of the issues and problems around making adjustments and finding a balance between your own comfort and that of others.
Roy Mitchell’s clear language – whether abstract or firmly grounded in practical observation – is a delight.
I agree; I’ve found this deeply thought provoking in a very gentle way. Classically Quaker!