Mutual respect fosters cooperation and connection

In a world where aggression is on the rise, we need to cultivate peace and harmony — now more than ever.

I had an unusual experience recently. As I strolled around Green Lake in Seattle, a large gentleman walked right into me, ramming into my shoulder. I was stunned. I immediately turned around and apologized for not looking where I was going. He kept going, but turned around, and smirked. It appeared to be intentional on his part.

I was upset. If I was older, and didn’t have 20 years of Martial Arts training, I might have been knocked over or hurt. If it had truly been an accident, I’m sure the other person would have also apologized for the incident. But instead, he looked pleased. I have no idea what was in his mind. I must admit that I had several vengeful fantasies.

I share some responsibility. I probably didn’t leave enough space between myself and this individual, which I may sometimes do unwittingly. After years of Aikido practice, I have a little bit of “Spidey” sense of the space between myself and others but may get too close for other’s comfort. Maybe this gentleman thought he was “teaching me a lesson.” Or maybe he was looking for a fight. I don’t know. I will be sure to leave much more distance in the future.

But this encounter made me think about the state of our community. I’ve noticed far more aggression in our generally super-polite Northwest culture. I’ve seen many cars run stops signs and red lights than ever before. I’ve witnessed angry words about mask wearing between strangers. Drivers are less likely to stop at crosswalks. I’ve heard more honking horns than ever before.

We don’t have to be social scientists to see that our world has more dissension, divisiveness, anger and aggression. The 2½ years of the COVID pandemic has not been kind to our nervous systems. The violence of Jan. 6. 2021, still sits in our bellies. Our sympathetic nervous systems, flight, fight or freeze response to threat, can engender withdrawal, numbness, or hostility. All these responses can be unhealthy. They can also cause harm to others.

So, what can we do to find greater peace, harmony, and understanding? How can we get along better with each other?

Let go of “us and them” thinking. There is no us and them — there is just “us and us.” We are dependent on each other for our lives — the workers that maintain the roads, grow the food, serve us at restaurants, or bring the internet to our homes. Everything you see in front of you is brought to you by an army of fellow human beings. We need each other. This interdependence transcends whatever differences we have.

Cultivate kindness, compassion and patience. What we believe is not nearly as important as how we act. Deeds of loving kindness elicit the same from others. Aggressive acts engender aggression from others. What we offer to others is returned to us. All human beings want happiness and the causes of happiness, no matter what philosophy or beliefs we hold. We all benefit from more kindness.

We are all more alike than we are different. We all have the same basic needs, hopes and dreams. We want our families to be healthy and happy. We all need shelter, warmth, and food. We all want to love and be loved. There is much more that is common among us than is different.

We can agree to disagree. It is inevitable that human beings will have different opinions on almost any topic. We can agree to see the world differently, promote our viewpoint, and still respect each other’s ideas. Mutual respect brings about cooperation and connection.

We need more of each.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.

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