Civil Discourse: Engaging the Demons in our Lives

Every day, it seems the media headlines tell us we are a divided nation; that there’s a host of issues people disagree on. At times, we may want to join a protest for, or against, something we believe in. At other times, we might vocalize our view online on one social media platform or another.   What seems to be missing in daily discourse, however, is a willingness and ability to be open to dialogue about the pressing issues of the day.

What if, instead of an “I’m right/you’re wrong” mentality, we could actually have a dialogue where people could jointly seek a better understanding? Might there be some topics where we can seek common ground?

I’m reminded of a Tibetan story that might shed some guidance on this opportunity.  A long time ago, there lived a hermit named Milarepa. Milarepa lived in a cave to seek peace after having done some terrible things in his past. One day, he came home to his cave after gathering some firewood and found several demons causing havoc. He tried chasing the demons out, but they only ran around in circles. Milarepa then tried to convince them to leave.  The demons wouldn’t listen. Milarepa, in defeat, left the cave and decided to reflect on how to deal with the demons in his home. As he sat by the brook near his cave, he realized there was not much he could do but surrender to the moment.  So he went back into his cave, faced the demons and told them, “Well, it doesn’t look like you’re leaving, and so we’re going to have to just live with each other. I welcome you into this space.” In that moment, all the demons but the biggest one disappeared. He then faced that demon, walked forward, put his head in the demon’s open mouth and said, “If you want to eat me, go ahead.” And in that moment, the final demon disappeared.

Like Milarepa, we all battle demons of one kind or another, internal and external. One type of demon we all face is being triggered by topics and conversations that are contrary to our deeply held beliefs.  What if, like Milarepa, we stop trying to combat others’ viewpoints and change their minds, and we instead seek to understand other people’s perspectives? If we can identify the right moment, with the right person, and the right topic an actual exchange of ideas might happen. To help create that proper moment click here for some tips.

Only if we can listen from a curious perspective will we obtain a deeper appreciation of where others are coming from. This understanding will allow us to live more harmoniously with each other.