Sunday, February 5, 2012

Curiosity without Assumptions

How often do we demonize the people we disagree with?  How often do we see a cut and dry, right and wrong, simplistic divide with little attempt to truly understand another’s position?

We don’t have to look much farther than the recent Republican debates to see how little deep understanding or compassion exists in our public conversations.

I have seen it time and time again in social justice work.  People on the Left—and on the Right—over simply the “other side.” As if there are only two sides.  As if the person with whom we disagree isn’t human but is, rather, some great evil. 

I’ve done it.  My early feminist commitments were so passionate I assumed that I had THE answer.

Boy, did age and life experience unsettle that arrogance and idealism.

I am still deeply committed to my feminist ideals.  But I am much more likely to want to understand where another person is coming from.  I prefer to presume that the other person is as deeply committed to his or her ideals for just as passionate—if different—reasons.

I am not suggesting there aren’t deep human atrocities, acts so horrible that we wonder how a human being could possibly commit them.  But in our everyday lives—in our neighborhoods, in our workplace, in our communities-- I prefer to believe there are human beings with deep and divided commitments.

The journalist and On Being host, Krista Tippett, gave a powerful TED talk that offers some thoughts about HOW to meet one another with compassion. “Reconnecting with Compassion,” explores a “linguistic resurrection” of the word compassion. Tippett tells of her Muslim conversation partners, Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan, who strive for “curiosity without assumptions.”

                                            TED Prize@UN, Filmed November 2010

What a generous way to enter a difficult conversation: with openness, interest, and inquiry instead of anger, judgment, and righteousness. It’s the same way we approach our yoga practice.

Each time we come to our yoga mat, we have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves.  We may do Downward dog every day, but each one tells us something new about ourselves. When we let go of preconceived assumptions, we can open to what is, instead of what we think should be.  In that open curiosity, we can explore the nuance and subtlety of our body. We can feel into the crevices of our emotions.

Those moments on our yoga mat can carry over into life itself. Each time we come to what seems like an obstacle in life, we can open the possibility.  Rather than closing down out of fear, we have the chance to learn more about ourselves as a person. We can connect with our neighbors and colleagues on a human level—around our kids or our yoga or our interest in cooking.  When we do, we are more likely to stay in the game when we disagree.  We are more likely to hear a person out, to dialogue, and to listen rather than be righteous.

That is the form of feminism that my yoga has taught me to embody—one I live into each and every day.