Much is being made today about mindfulness and its beneficial effects on the individual practitioner, such as lowered stress and improved overall health. However, the truly revolutionary aspect of mindfulness is how it leads to an increased awareness of your self and your relationships with others and fosters compassion for self and others.
Mindful elected officials in government can transform government’s response to very difficult problems that we face today in our communities, our nation, and our world.
Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
In January 2016, I was honored to participate in the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. For me, a Mayor of a small city of less than 17,000, it was quite an amazing experience to be with Mayors from all over the United States.
On the first morning of the conference, I participated in the opening press conference. Less than one minute after the US Conference of Mayors President, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, began her speech, I saw a woman stand up in front of the podium and held up a sign, protesting police brutality.
Instantly, I became very uncomfortable.
I was paying attention to how I was feeling, as I noticed myself looking around nervously. I saw my fellow Mayors were equally uncomfortable. Behind me, someone said “Get her out of there!”
A voice from behind the press corps shouted “Listen to the people. The people have something to say!”
At this point, very judgmental, knee-jerk reactions were running through my head:
“This is not the right way to go about change.”
“Why do people wait until something tragic happens before they decide to do something?”
“How dare they disrupt our press conference.”
A security guard from the hotel tried to get the protester to leave, but she refused. At that moment, I noticed that the woman’s hand was trembling.
Suddenly, a wave of compassion fell over me, as I put myself in her shoes:
“How is she connected to the victim of the incident?”
“I could never stand in front of a press conference in protest like that. That takes guts!”
“I cannot imagine what she is feeling right now.”
As the press conference ended, the woman stayed resolute in her protest. I decided to approach her. I said “You are very brave to do this. Keep up the fight!” She gave me a beaming, beautiful smile in response, and I walked away.
I realized that the compassion that I felt for her allowed me to respond to her as a fellow human being who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity—a compassionate response.
Being mindful as a politician can produce real change.
It is not easy to be mindful, especially as a politician.
The challenge for me is to be mindful in the face of anger, frustration, and pain, and to respond in a compassionate way. I am not perfect, but I keep trying to improve. For example, I could have taken further steps to engage this woman in a couple ways:
- in a dialogue, to gain a better understanding of her motivation for her protest and
- in collaboration, to see how I could help her and support her cause.
Don’t we deserve more mindful politicians and elected officials, so that we can benefit from more compassionate responses to the issues that we all face in our neighborhoods and communities, our nation, and our world?
What would a mindful and compassionate response be to immigration? Homelessness? Violence? Unemployment? Poverty?
Let me know what you think in the comments.
Photo credit: © Lepas | Dreamstime.com