Tuesday, May 21, 2024
CommentaryPolitics as a fabric of compassion and justice

Politics as a fabric of compassion and justice

When all of our talk about politics is either technical or strategic, to say nothing of partisan and polarizing, we loosen or sever the human connections on which empathy, accountability, and democracy itself depend on, writes Jenberu Haile.

When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy. 

We have been living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. I believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith have been at stake. As Ethiopians, it is time to be followers of our Early Wisdom Traditions Teaching before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in the Owner of this Universe precedes every other identity.

All three traditions [Christianity, Judaism, and Islam] are misunderstood because some of their alleged adherents engage in hateful and violent behavior that distorts and defies the values they claim to represent. At their core, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and all of the major world religions are committed to compassion and hospitality. . . . In this fact lies the hope that we might reclaim their power to help reweave our tattered civic fabric.

But it seems that without the non-dual mind, it’s almost impossible for us to find another way of doing politics. Grounding social action in contemplative consciousness is not a luxury for a few but a cultural necessity. Both the Christian religion and Ethiopian psyche need deep cleansing and healing from our many unhealed wounds. Only a contemplative mind can hold our fear, confusion, vulnerability, and anger and guide us toward love.

Contemplative thinkers can model a way of building a collaborative, compassionate politics. I suggest we start by reclaiming the wisdom of the Law of Three, a circle dance of mutuality and communion. Humans—especially the powerful, the wealthy, and supporters of the patriarchal system—are more comfortable with a divine monarch at the top of pyramidal reality. Spiritual power is more circular or spiral, and not so much hierarchical. It’s shared and shareable. God’s Spirit is planted within each of us and operating as each of us (see Romans 5:5)! The Law of Three shows that God’s power is not domination, threat, or coercion. All divine power is shared power and the letting go of autonomous power.

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There’s no seeking of power over in the Law of Three, but only power with—giving away and humbly receiving. This should have changed all human relationships: in churches, mosques, marriage, culture, and even international relations. Most of our traditions seemed to have preferred kings, wars, and empires instead of suffering servant-hood or leveling love. Since this is so ingrained in our psyche, we must work hard to dismantle systems of domination.


We believe our elected officials will be called to public service, not public tyranny as it were, so we must protect the limits, checks, and balances of democracy and encourage humility and civility on the part of elected officials.

We reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule. . . . Disrespect for the rule of law, not recognizing the equal importance of our branches of government, and replacing civility with dehumanizing hostility toward opponents are of great concern to us. Neglecting the ethic of public service and accountability, in favor of personal recognition and gain often characterized by offensive arrogance, are not just political issues for us. They raise deeper concerns about political idolatry, accompanied by false and unconstitutional notions of authority.

Three words encapsulate a new way of being political as we strive to come home to ourselves as a planetary, cosmic and spiritual species: interdependence, sustainability, and justice. In recent decades, we witness a growing awareness of how everything is interconnected and interdependent through different kinds of technological inventions. But that awareness has scarcely begun to seep into the consciousness of the political arena.

The universe that sustains our existence and the planet that nurtures our relational well-being require political strategies and structures that will both honor and enhance that relational interdependence. And this applies not merely to people but to all creatures inhabiting creation, as well as to the various ecosystems that sustain and nourish our mutual co-existence. In fact, other life forms innately veer in this direction. It is we humans, as vociferous consumers, who threaten the ecological equilibrium.

According to James Robertson, the shift to a more sustainable political policy will involve:

. . . a shift of emphasis away from means towards ends; away from economic growth towards human development; away from quantitative towards qualitative values and goals; away from the impersonal and organizational towards the personal and interpersonal; and away from the earning and spending of money towards the meeting of real human needs and aspirations. A culture that has been masculine, aggressive and domineering in its outlook will give place to one which is more feminine, cooperative and supportive. A culture that has exalted uniformity will give place to one which values the multi-cultural richness and diversity of human experience. An anthropocentric worldview that has licensed the human species to exploit the rest of nature as if from above and outside it, will give place to an ecological worldview. We shall recognize that survival and self-realization alike require us to act as what we really are—integral parts of an ecosystem much larger, more complex, and more powerful than ourselves.

Alternative structures can achieve little without a new vision of how reality works. The real conversion confronting humanity today is a transformation of consciousness rather than mechanistic changes in human or social behavior.

I am consciously advocating a subversive strategy for future political engagement. Current models of political activity are largely beyond reform. We need to withhold our support and redirect our imagination and energy into different, more egalitarian, ecological and sustainable ways for relating to creation and to other people.

We live in a moment of grace. Through the hedges of our divisions we are beginning to glimpse again the beauty of life’s ONENESS. We are beginning to hear, in a way that humanity has never heard before, the essential harmony that lies at the heart of the universe. And we are beginning to understand, amidst the horror and suffering of our divisions, that we will be well to the extent that we move back into relationship with one another, whether as individuals and families or as nations and species.

Poet, peacemaker, minister, and scholar John Philip Newell reminds us of the Holocaust and how Germany, under Hitler’s command, murdered millions of Jews in Poland. The German nation was not alone in this. Some of our worst inhumanities as nations, including Britain and America, have been perpetrated on foreign soil and kept at a distance, as if to hide from our own soul the sacrilege of what we are doing. . . . Something in our collective psyche has pretended that the families of another land are not as sacred as the sons and daughters of our own. . . .

Think of the hubris of our lives. Think of our individual arrogance, the way we pursue our own well-being at the neglect and even expense of others. . . . Think of the hubris of our nationhood, pretending that we could look after the safety of our homeland by ignoring and even violating the sovereignty of other lands. Think of the hubris of our religion, raising ourselves up over other wisdom traditions and even trying to force our ways on them. Think of the hubris of the human species, pretending that we could look after our own health while exploiting and endangering the life of other species. . . .

This is opposite to the way of ancient Wisdom Traditions practitioners, who taught and showed the strength of humility, of being close to the humus, close to the Ground from which we and all things come. Their motto is that the humblest are “the greatest”. Not that following their path of humility is straightforward. Constantly there is tension—the tension of discerning how to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, how to honor the heart of another nation as we honor our own homeland, how to revere the truths of another wisdom tradition as we cherish our own inheritance, how to protect the life of other species as we guard the sanctity of our own life-form. These Wisdom Traditions Practitioners knew such tension.

Terry Tempest Williams says the human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions?

Biologist and Scientist Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “the heart is first and foremost an organ of spiritual perception. Its primary function is to look beyond the obvious, the boundaried surface of things, and see into a deeper reality.  Within the contemplative heart you are indestructible, even though you feel quite vulnerable and unsure of yourself in many ways. Inside this sacred space you can love and critique America at the same time. You can weep for the bigger evil of which both sides are victims and imagine an alternative universe because you have now been there yourself.”

When all of our talk about politics is either technical or strategic, to say nothing of partisan and polarizing, we loosen or sever the human connections on which empathy, accountability, and democracy itself depend on. If we cannot talk about politics in the language of the heart—if we cannot be heartbroken, for example, that the wealthiest nation on earth is unable to summon the political will to end childhood hunger at home—how can we create a politics worthy of the human spirit, one that has a chance to serve the common good? . . .

Here are five interlocking habits of the heart . . . deeply ingrained patterns of receiving, interpreting, and responding to experience that involve our intellects, emotions, self-images, and concepts of meaning and purpose. These five habits, taken together, are crucial to sustaining a democracy.

  • We must understand that we are all in this together. Ecologists, economists, ethicists, philosophers of science, and religious and secular leaders have all given voice to this theme. . . .
  • We must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.”. . . This can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger. . . .
  • We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. . . . When we allow these tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. . . .
  • We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak and act, expressing our version of truth while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. . . .
  • We must strengthen our capacity to create community. . . . The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens.

When these naturally interlocking habits of the human heart are consciously developed and watered, the flow of compassion and justice in politics will take its natural course.

Ed.’s Note: Jenberu Haile is the general manager of JHAMNZ General Consultancy and Training Services. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].

Contributed by Jenberu Haile


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