Its no secret that a large segment of today’s population feel completely alienated and disconnected from the idea of politics. For most of us, politics is associated with stuffy old men in suits pontificating in parliament, removed from the everyday concerns of ordinary people. It’s a world where promises are easily made and just as easily broken. Its easy to to simply wish a plague on all their houses, and retreat back into worries of everyday life – paying rent, looking after the kids etc. Yet, as much as we might try and retreat, we cant ignore that many problems of the world that do have a direct impact on our life – global warming, environmental degradation, growing economic inequality, war, crime and job insecurity – just to name a few. These problems can seem too big and complex for any one individual to resolve. We know that politicians are doing a terrible job at handling it, but we don’t feel any sense of our own power to change the situation. What can we do other than distract ourselves in the everyday concerns of life and hope for the best?
This is a question I have been grappling with myself throughout my life. I’ve joined political parties and activist movements, read great political works and argued many an hour away with friends and family about what can be done.
The conclusion I have come to is quite simple. Changing the world requires us to change ourselves. This isn’t some self-help slogan which allows me to ignore the world’s problems while spending hours on navel gazing psycho-therapy. Quite the opposite. Achieving enlightenment while the world crumbles around you isn’t real enlightenment. Thats just a bubble waiting to be burst. Instead real enlightenment involves dealing with the practical, nitty gritty dilemmas of the world around us. Its not some spiritual high but a state of consciousness that allows us to intelligently and creatively deal with complex problems.
Perhaps, I can try and make this a little clearer by illustrating this in concrete terms. Take the Israel/Palestine problem for example (heavy stuff I know!). On the surface this seems like an intractable age old battle, mired in complex geo-political influences, religious differences and so on. Viewed from this perspective, the problem becomes abstract, impersonal, infinitely complex and almost impossible to resolve for us mere mortals. Yet, when we boil these problems down to their basic emotional ingredients – fear, mistrust, egotism, irrational thinking etc these problems are really not that different from the issues we face in our own life. How different is an acrimonious marriage breakdown from what brings one country to wage war on another? This may sound offensively simplistic, but I would suggest that the difference is really just a question of scale and impact. Our own lives are just a microcosm of the macrocosm of big picture politics.
The question then becomes, if we cant manage our own lives in harmonious, peaceful and loving way, why on earth should we expect politicians or those in power to be any different? The bigger problems of the world are just more complex reflections of our own issues. When viewed from this angle, politics stops being about distant and powerful men in suits, and becomes an intensely personal examination of our own consciousness and awareness. We stop blaming dishonest politicians, greedy corporations, migrants or any other scape goat we may choose and starting asking how do I manage conflict peacefully in my own life? How do I support others to meet their needs while fulfilling my own? How do I compassionately respond to my own pain and suffering and those of others?
By tending to these questions, we begin to nurture our own capacity to actively involves ourselves in the world in a positive way, rather than burying our head in the sand and blaming others for problems. We can begin to approach politics from a position of confidence rather than cynicism because in the end the way we look at the world in only a reflection of the way we view ourselves.