Contempt - an Affair of the Heart
"The problem with politics isn't opposing views; it's the way we speak to each other . . . We don't have an anger problem in American politics. We have a contempt problem . . ." Thus spoke
, president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative, non-partisan think tank. He was speaking at the Harvard Kennedy School in early May.
His clarity about contempt being "the problem" grabbed a hold on me that wouldn't let go as I thought about what to write this month. I think the hold is strong because it has to do with facing that I have contempt in my heart. I don't like admitting that. Brooks said he asked the Dalai Lama what to do when he feels contempt. Characteristically, the Dalai Lama replied: "Practice warmheartedness."
Contempt, more than any other emotion or attitude, seems so baldly antithetical to warmheartedness or anything close to compassion or empathy. In an article for the
New York Times
Brooks explained: "The Dalai Lama would be the first to note that warmheartedness is for the strong and not the weak. But it is advice he has taken himself, leading a poor and oppressed Tibetan minority community into exile in the face of naked Chinese aggression. . . he begins each day with earnest prayers for China and its people, and . . . continues to search for common ground with a nation that sees him as an enemy."
(New York Times, April 10, 2016)
Warmheartedness. Heart intelligence. Heart connection. In the book
, co-author Howard Martin writes: "Heart connection is on the rise because people around the world are yearning for it. They are tired of the old ways of doing things - societal systems that don't work well anymore, belief systems that focus on polarization and separation, and a host of other paradigms that have been the status quo . . . Awareness is shifting, people are changing, society is transforming and a new collective intelligence is emerging."
We know that contempt breeds contempt. Sometimes it's not possible to stop the spread of it by talking it through or talking about it. Contempt takes personal heart work or, we might say, personal heart warming. Here's a little practice that I learned from the
Place your hand on your heart.
Identify the emotion or attitude you want to replace.
Think of a positive feeling or emotion to replace the unwanted feeling.
As you breathe, imagine you are breathing in the positive replacement emotion. Imagine you are breathing in through your heart area.
Keep your hand on your heart while you lock in the new feeling or attitude.
Repeat as needed.
A Fun Footnote: I suggested this practice to about seventy participants in a pretty tense meeting. They were polarized in a number of ways. As they continued through their agenda, they began to notice one another, here and there, with their hands over their hearts. Talk about nonverbal communication! They wound up enjoying the unanticipated side effect of welcomed humor as they witnessed one another doing their individual, personal "heart warming". Smiles began to warm up the meeting, too!