"You know him," says Karen, a candidate for the state house at a small sign-waving event along the road in Eaton the other day.
He flies the Confederate battle flag from his house. For that reason, he's been vilified and ostracized in my newspaper by several letter writers. He also has Trump and other candidate signs out front. One reads; "Save America, Vote Republican."
"It's Roy [so-and-so]" she said.
"Oh yes, I know you," I said to him as we meet.
Then I realized exactly what I just said.
I don't know Roy. I know much of the controversy around his flag. I know generally what the political left and right think about that flag. But, I also know how we use concepts like symbols to project the worst on each other while willfully ignoring the rest of the person.
"I guess I don't know you, really," I corrected myself smiling.
He's a bit younger than I thought he would be. He has bright eyes and a soft smile. He seems to have a pretty good sense of humor too. We talked a little about my motorcycle after he saw me park near the event. He said he'll be on his in about an hour. I found out he's a cool dude and I like him.
One of the biggest obstacles to authentic practice is our knowing. Our knowing darkens and narrows the world and causes us to miss the true reality of whatever this is. Practice is waking up to this. We vow to bring light to the world by letting go of our knowing. Freely giving compassion to all that is, right here, right now. "Good" or "bad."
"Not knowing" is the first of Bernie Glassman's three tenets.
When I caught myself glibly knowing Roy, I turned my attention back to the moment. I felt what was happening in my body and became aware of what was happening in my thoughts and payed attention to everything else around.
I could feel my chest getting tight as I was thinking "this guy wants to own slaves?" Since I am an enemy of slavery, so, I must be an enemy of Roy's.
Really? Roy wants to own slaves? Who is Roy again?
After a few breaths the world lightened up a little. I saw my projections of him and the flag and felt the tightness of my body start to relax.
I took a few more photos for the paper and chatted with the candidates. I wandered back over towards Roy and it seemed he really wanted to explain himself offering some of his feelings about the whole thing and what drove him to display the flag.
Many of the things he said sounded misinformed to me. Each time I noticed that I was thinking he was wrong I had to try to return to my vow of just being present and let it go. Breathe. I had to remember that, to him, my words would also sound like misinformation. So if I unskillfully tried to correct him, it would just cause more separation.
I just listened. Instead of listening for "lies" or things that trigger me, I tried listening to his tone and his inflections to get a sense of his compassion. Of course he has compassion. He is a human being.
I'm sure neither of us would really change our minds about that flag even after long conversations, but, Roy is a new acquaintance. There seems to be a little more room for our opposing views because we both have friendly faces and kind hearts we know from the other side.
This was good practice because the next day Donald Trump Jr. came to speak in the parking lot of a local restaurant. There were many friendly faces and kind hearts that I know in attendance. Another forthcoming blog to explore what happened there I'm sure.