(Editor’s note: this talk was delivered at the Twisp women’s march on Jan. 21, 2017).
By Peggy Hosford
First of all, let me say that I am honored to have been asked to speak here today. Like many of you, I was utterly shocked and devastated by the results of our recent presidential election. Shock was soon replaced by anger, fear and disbelief. It seemed so unlikely that a candidate who openly taunted the disabled, hurled insults at women and scapegoated minorities could possibly be elected.
Weren’t we better than this? It was as if he held up a mirror to show us things about ourselves that we didn’t want to see. It also brought out the fact that there is a sizable minority in this country that has felt not heard, and left behind during the economic recovery. The worst thing for me has been the level of disrespect and hatred between the two sides of the political spectrum.
So how does one respond to all of this? Is it even possible to make a difference? It is pretty easy to get discouraged and just give up. However, we who live in a democracy cannot do this. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” One of the positives to come out of this election is that many who have been complacent now realize how important it is to get involved.
Robert Hardiss, the minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., recently gave a sermon on the topic of finding hope. He states that hope is a journey, a difficult path through a beautiful and broken world. He lists three important points.
First, start where you are and take one step at a time. Get involved. Do the good you can in the place you are. I love what Ghandi says, “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing there will be no results.”
For me, I decided that I was going to take a couple of steps. One was to vow to be kinder to others, even if I did not agree with them. The other was to decide that since I can’t make a difference with my energies scattered in all directions, I would focus on health care as my issue.
This makes sense, since I am a retired physician and have seen first hand the difficulties caused by lack of health insurance. Access to health care is a social justice issue. As King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” We must work for universal health care coverage in this country, the only major country in the world without it. We can do better!
Second, whatever you do, don’t make the journey alone. There is power in numbers and we can support each other and create hope, which is why I think events like this march are so important.
Third, cultivate a spiritual practice. More than anything, I think the situation in which we find ourselves in this country today is a spiritual crisis. In some ways America has lost her soul. More often than not, greed and self-interest have come before the higher good.
Principles of leadership
There are some principles of spiritual leadership which are particularly relevant today. One is that the motivation underlying our activism for social change must be transformed from anger and despair to compassion and love. This means that we seek to work for love, rather than against evil. We need to adopt compassion and love as our foundational intention, and do whatever inner work is required to implement this intention. The Dalai Lama says, “A positive future can never emerge from the mind of anger and despair.”
Another principle is that of non-attachment to outcome. If we are only attached to the results of work, we rise and fall with our successes and failures, which is a path to burnout. Successes are not the deepest purpose of our work. Even in failure, we cannot know the possible far reaching effects of our actions.
Another principle is, don’t demonize your adversaries. People respond to arrogance with their own arrogance, which leads to polarization. We need to be willing to entertain alternative points of view, to have an inquiring mind. We also need to have compassion for our enemies. I love this quote from Longfellow: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” We need to understand what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes.
Another principle is that what you attend to, you become. If you constantly attend to battles, you become embattled. On the other hand, if you constantly give love, you become loving. We must choose wisely what we attend to, because it shapes and defines us deeply.
This morning when I was looking on Facebook, I found some words of encouragement from Bernie Sanders. He says, “The great crisis we face as a nation is not just the objective problems that we face. The more serious crisis is the limitation of our imaginations. It is falling victim to an incredibly powerful establishment that tells us every day, in a million different ways, that real change is unthinkable and impossible. That we have got to think small, not big.”
He continues, “The future of our country, and perhaps the world, requires us to break through those limitations. Humanity is at a crossroads. We can continue down the current path … or we can lead the world in moving in a very different direction. We will not be able to accomplish those goals if we look at democracy as a spectator sport, assuming others will do it for us. They won’t. The future is in your hands. Let’s get to work!”
I would like to close with a resolution which started out as a Christmas wish on an old card I found. We have renamed it “A Resolution for Us All:”
May we break down boundaries, tear down walls, and build on the foundation of goodness inside each of us.
May we look past differences, gain understanding, and embrace acceptance. May we reach out to each other, rather than resist.
May we be better stewards of the earth, protecting, nurturing and replenishing the beauties of nature.
May we practice gratitude for all we have, rather than complain about our needs.
May we seek cures for the sick, help for the hungry, and love for the lonely.
May we share our talents, give our time, and teach our children.
May we hold hope for the future very tenderly in our hearts and do all we can to build for bright tomorrows.
And may we love with our whole hearts.
Peggy Hosford, a retired physician, is a graduate of Stanford University Medical School and holds a master’s degree in spiritual ministry. Throughout her 35-year practice in family medicine she has been passionate about social justice issues, particularly those relating to accessible affordable health care.