When we allow our egos to close our eyes to those with whom we interact, how do we intend to make progress? When we misunderstand each other as unable to relate and communicate, when then do we expect to work together? And if we don't expect to work together, in a world that needs change, how can we continue to live together?
In the book Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass, the action of protesting is discussed. In the following excerpt, he teaches a lesson that gets at the heart of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“Let us consider an example of the relation of a group called ‘hippies’ and a group called ‘police.’ If a ‘confrontation’ occurs during a protest, what is the result?...If the hippies see the police only as ‘them’ and the police see the hippies only as ‘them’…then the result is an increase in polarization and distance between the two groups. Each returns to its headquarters and plans an increase in its own strength to overcome ‘them.’
Why does the distance increase? Because nobody wants to be ‘them.’ Everyone wants to be ‘us.’ And if you meet someone who sees you as ‘him’ or ‘one of them,’ that meeting arouses in you all your paranoia and you, in turn, see the other person as ‘him’ or ‘one of them.’
Such cycles get worse and worse until there is violent confrontation. What is the conscious alternative? It is not to avoid protest or confrontation. Rather it is for the participants to become more ‘conscious.’ And what does that mean? It means that though you may be protesting against someone or some group, you realize that behind the ways in which you differ, you are the same. That is, you understand protest as a form of social communication among US…and that ‘where it counts’ there is only US. US includes black and white, young and old, man and woman, American and Russian, rich and poor, saint and rogue.
So the simple rule of conscious participation is:
YOU MAY PROTEST IF YOU CAN LOVE THE PERSON YOU ARE PROTESTING AGAINST AS MUCH AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF.
You may disagree with all his values, but behind them all…HERE WE ARE…all manifestations of the Spirit.
The effect of ‘conscious’ protest is that it reduces the polarization and the paranoia and thus allows each side to hear the other’s concern more clearly because there is less fear and anxiety. It’s all so simple(and so difficult). There can be conscious revolution.”
The 1968 Convention is now a chapter in our nation's history. We cannot change what occurred, but we can learn from it. If we look beyond clothes and uniforms, beyond age and skin color, beyond age and agenda, we can see that we are all living in the same world. No matter how much we disagree, if we want to better understand each other, at the very least we need to be able to communicate. To communicate we must step beyond the idea of the "other", beyond the dichotomy of "us" versus "them". The demonstrators and police during the convention in Chicago epitomized "us" versus "them". The result was violent. Yet the opportunity to "realize that behind the ways in which you differ, you are the same" still exists. Once we put aside the insulting signs, the weapons and the bigotry, the communication can begin.