Ram Dass on Polarization, Awareness and Social Responsibility

Question: In a rapidly deteriorating situation, like in this country and the world today, why are the most aware people that I know of really feeling the need to get into heavy political and social action? What is our responsibility?

This seems to take on two manifestations: one, it divides people even worse, and the other is, on the survival level, it seems like the only thing to do.

Ram Dass: The issue, it seems to me, is the issue of social responsibility. It seems to be the responsibility to the wellbeing of one’s fellow humans. And if you watch the way it often works, people can get locked in a struggle. And then some other model can come which frees both of them from an untenable predicament that they’re stuck in, right? In other words, somebody comes in with a new way of looking at it. Like with two children fighting. You can often come in and shift their minds into another place, so that the whole fight changes its nature and what they’re fighting about doesn’t seem to be the essence of the matter.

Einstein said an interesting thing, he said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

That is, the only way we can solve them is by creating a new level of thinking about them. In other words, we’ve got to break the pattern of confrontations increasing the amount of hurt and anger and polarization. No matter what the short term gain is, there is a long term loss in terms of increasing paranoia.

In high energy centers in the country, the polarization and paranoia seem to precipitate out much faster. If I identify with any side of any position, then that attachment to that side makes me see the opposite side in terms of an object, as “them.” Seeing another being as “them” is what the problem is, that’s what it boils down to. Whether it’s through the lens of Nationalism or racial tension or generations or theories of research or whatever it is.

To the extent that you see somebody in the universe as “them”, you create increasing paranoia because you’re stuck in your world of “them,” which puts “them” in the world of “them” which increases the “them-ness” or psychic distance between people.

So I see that the only rule of all human relations, be they mother and child or therapist and patient or lecturer and audience or army and pacifist or North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese or whatever it is, the only rule of the game is to put your own consciousness in a place where you are no longer attached to a polarized position even though you may, by the nature of the game, be forced to play out a polarizing role.

For example, I recently met with a police chief who had been going around to colleges getting college students to become policemen for New York City. I complimented him on what he’s doing, on trying to create another kind of psychic space in the police department, and so on.

At the same time, I said, “The program will be as successful as you are conscious because as long as you are stuck in a polarity you’re just going to enroll more people into that polarity. If you aren’t stuck in the polarity, you may be able to free people by the model that new policemen will adopt about what it is that they think they’re doing every day when they go out and be policemen.”

When I was in India in the temple, I was sitting there. And there was a river flowing by and there were birds chirping and it was gentle and I was meditating. And I felt this great feeling of well-being and calmness and I thought, “What am I doing here? Why aren’t I back on the front lines? Why aren’t I back fighting? Why aren’t I back doing what I believe for what I believe; you know, protesting against injustice and so on? Am I copping out? Is this like a real battle rest station? What kind of scene am I in? Is this a cop-out?”

Then I began to see that staying alone in that room at that moment was confronting me with an internal battle which was much fiercer than any external battle I had ever fought before.

And until I had found some way through that internal battle, all I could do was get sucked into the external manifestations of it in such a way as to perpetuate them. Right? I began to see that it was absolutely imperative in terms of socially responsible, effective behavior that I work on myself sufficiently.

So that I could look at any human being and see that place in them behind whatever their melodrama is. Be it Nixon. Or a hippie or Mao or Hitler or Schweitzer or Mahatma Gandhi. Or whatever the person’s trip is. To be able to see behind that.

Until I was centered enough, until I was in that place in myself, I couldn’t really know that place in other beings. I saw that, finally, my responsibility was to work on myself.

– Ram Dass, 1970

6 thoughts on “Ram Dass on Polarization, Awareness and Social Responsibility”

  1. Thank you for this helpful description of the dilemma. I get into urgent HAVE TO’S regarding my responsibility here on this earth at this time, which screws it all up. Putting it back into me resolving my inner conflicts is really the requirement, not what I DO outside. Thank you so much for this clarity. You have been guiding me for decades, I am so grateful for your presence here on earth. Thank you.

  2. Jesus gave gracious advice in the Bible. Be kind, generous, compasionate, understanding etc etc.
    I wise man said, ‘When you are in the service of your fellow beings; you are in the service of your God’.
    Somehow this willing service seems to dissolve the ego, when we seek the succoring of the other. Consequently the various inner conflicts appear to dissolve, or lessen, at least.

  3. Your examples are helpful, Ram Dass. To be successful in helping opposing sides of any conflict be it large or small, or to help bring about a consciousness that bridges the differences we “see,” the them-us mentality, we must first focus on our own self and evolve in a non-judgmental, impartial observer that can assist others to move in this direction–see both sides of a matter. Less ego and more compassion. Otherwise, we only add fuel to one side or the other widening the gap to reaching a compromise.

  4. I have become aware that we conclude that life is good or bad! And we conclude that people are good or bad! Our conclusions are a response to our feelings that rise in association with our experience of the other person! If someone is having a bad time we may associate the person with bad times! We generalize which can be misleading! When we become more fully aware we realize that our perceptions are finite and reality is infinite!


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