Monday, March 11, 2013

Attitudes Matter

We can all likely recall a situation when we listened to an erudite speaker while being simultaneously put off by their attitude. When we sense arrogance, disdain, mean-spiritedness, etc. we naturally recoil. Numerous times I've heard or seen the words "Attitude is Everything" or "It's not how the world treats you, it's how you react to how the world treats you" or other similar aphorisms emphasizing attitudes.

One of the few listservs I remain on is the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation, where more than 1,000 facilitators of group process lurk and share ideas about improving how we can make group work better for all. In a recent post about the Vermont Town Meetings one list member shared the story about an invocation that begins many of the town meetings these days. Normally given my a member of the religious community, one year in the town of Danford, VT, Toby Balivet, town attorney gave the following invocation which has since be adopted by many of the towns:

"We have come together in civil assembly, as a community, in a tradition that is older than our state itself. We come together to make decisions about our community. As we deliberate, let us advocate for our positions, but not at the expense of others. Let us remember that there is an immense gap between saying 'I am right' and saying 'I believe I am right.' And that our neighbors with whom we disagree are good people with hopes and dreams as true and as high as ours. And let us always remember that, in the end, caring for each other, in this community, is of far greater importance than any difference we may have."

I think this is the kind of attitude we must cultivate to make our way forward through  uncertain times. Inherent in it are humility, forgiveness, empathy, compassion and commitment to community. We need to take back the language that is so heavily loaded with competition, with winning, with power-over as opposed to power-with. Perhaps if we were to be bombarded with more positive social attitudes we might yet create communities that thrive for all. In Aldous Huxley's utopian novel, Island, in the background throughout the book could be heard the birds calling "Attention" and "Here and now" a reminder to the citizens to be mindful of what was before them at the moment. John Rowson in a November 2010 blog Mindfulness (4) "Huxley's Reminder Birds" extracts some of the description from the book.

 "Attention",  a voice began to call, and it was as though an oboe had suddenly become articulate. "Attention",  it repeated in the same high, nasal monotone. "Attention"  (...)
"Is that your bird?" Will asked.
She shook her head.
Mynahs are like the electric light", she said. "They don't belong to anybody."
Why does he say those things?
"Because somebody taught him", she answered patiently...
But why did they teach him those things? Why 'Attention'? Why 'Here and now?'
"Well ..." She searched for the right words in which to explain the self-evident to this strange imbecile. "That's what you always forget, isn't it? I mean, you forget to pay attention to what's happening. And that's the same as not being here and now."
"And the mynahs fly about reminding you—is that it?"
She nodded. That, of course, was it. There was a silence.

Rowson also shares in that blog another quote that signifies the importance of developing a mindful attitude as the road to a better world.

As positive psychologist, [Mihaly] Czikzsentmihalyi once said: ‘Where attention goes, energy flows.'
Attending to our attitudes more purposefully and with elements of the Vermont Town Meeting invocation may help us find our way towards a better world and personal happiness. I can't see it hurting either.