“There is Always Something I Can Learn”
A Daily Mantra for a Divided World

“There is always something I can learn,” will be my Daily Mantra for the foreseeable future.

Why Are We So Divided Today?Mantras are simple phrases, or words, or sounds, that people use to help themselves stay focused on a particular state of mind. In my case, I need to focus on what unites us rather than divides us. As our upcoming election approaches. I find it easy to take a side, but everything I know about riding life’s river reminds me that it would be wiser if I did a little more listening and learning with an open mind to the people with whom I disagree.

“There is always something I can learn.”

woman standing in the middle on red and gray painted wallWe all tend to listen to others with an autobiographical focus. We listen for whether we agree or not, for how their words affect us, or for what they are saying about our world. The moment we hear something we disagree with, we tend to shut down, to start arguing, or to assign sides. Well, shutting down will get me nowhere, while arguing is as helpful as spinning a wheel in mud, and assigning sides only makes people feel more divided.

“There is always something I can learn.”

People are always so quick to defend themselves.  We’ve choked the river with barriers, destroyers, battleships and dams. But the more we try to defend our actions, the more defensive everyone else becomes. Defensiveness does not create smooth sailing. Defensiveness sinks ships.  

“There is always something I can learn.”

I am reminded of a conversation that I had recently with a fourth grader. We were discussing why he has been acting mean to one of the other students. “He was mean to me,” was his excuse.

“So that means that you can be mean to him, then he will keep being mean to you, and you can keep being mean to him, and we all can just go on being mean forever?” Even a fourth grader knew that this reasoning didn’t seem right.

“No,” he answered uncertainly.

“So what do we do? Who needs to stop being mean?”

“Both of us,” he said tentatively.

“Do you have the power to stop him being mean?”

“No.”

“So who is the only one you can make stop being mean?”

“Me?” he said with a note of discovery.

“That is very wise of you to understand,” I told him.

woman holding red and white megaphone standing near buildingI know many adults who fail to understand that simple truth. They expect the other side to start learning, start listening, and start seeing the world as they see it. They fail to understand that the only way to open a mind is to approach it with an open mind.

“There is always something I can learn.”

We need to listen and learn from each other. I can’t just call you stupid; I need to know why you believe as you do. I can’t just declare you ignorant without showing my own ignorance of your personal perspective. I need to remember the rule of persuasion, which states that we can only influence what we truly understand. I need to remember the rule of reflection, which reminds me that what people say about the world is always a reflection of how they perceive the world. I need to remember the rule of process, which tells me that I can only influence perspectives one mind at a time. I need to listen to the world around me and remind myself that “There is always something I can learn,” so that I will look for what I can learn rather than stay stuck fuming about the so called jerks, liars, cheaters, and manipulators around me. Name calling never solved anything.

“There is always something I can learn.”

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