We live in a time of extreme polarization. People and even entire societies are taking fixed stands, and disputing the validity or right of anyone holding different or opposing viewpoints. In the framework of governing a nation, this leads inevitably to either a form of political gridlock if the sides are relatively equally matched, or a form of authoritarianism that attempts to control or stamp out views held by a minority who lack the immediate political power to level the playing field. Due to the extremity and intensity of the opposing views, there is an unwillingness to make accommodations or reach compromise or mediated solutions. Politics thus is turned into a “winner take all” form of warfare, where, in the end, very little can be accomplished and progress is halted.

We see the same thing occurring in interpersonal relationships. We hold a fixed view and refuse to acknowledge the right or legitimacy of those with different views. This extends to cultural, religious, philosophical, racial, social, economic or political differences as well. In some cases we refuse to communicate with those we disagree with, and even friends and family, if they take an opposing view, can find themselves ostracized and cut off despite emotional, familial or other bonds that would otherwise bring them together. This prevents us also from widening our viewpoints and learning from others who may have different backgrounds, experience or world-views, and thus, progress and inner growth is stultified or even stopped.

As long as we are fixed and immovable in our own view, and we refuse to entertain ideas, values or feelings that arise from a different view, conflict is inevitable. The Mother proposes that we not engage in fighting or quarrelling over our differing views or opinions, but use the opportunity to widen our understanding by placing ourselves in the viewpoint of the person with whom we are ready to argue. While we may continue to maintain our own view of things, at the very least, we may find that the other person is not entirely being unreasonable, but just seeing and responding to a different viewpoint and experience, and thus, there may be ways to accommodate and bridge the differences instead of fighting all the time. The Mother elsewhere has pointed out that “When you become conscious of the whole world at the same time, then you can become conscious of the Divine.” If we reflect on the meaning of this statement, we can see that inner growth and spiritual realisation is based in a process of widening and a recognition that the world contains an almost infinite variety of forms, forces, viewpoints and developmental directions, and thus, any one viewpoint is insufficient to incorporate the intent and significance of the divine manifestation. What is right from one standpoint remains “right” but not the exclusive “right” for the entire planet and all the beings, at this stage, under these circumstances.

The Mother observes: “You have never tried to enter another person’s consciousness to know exactly what is going on there? Not projecting your consciousness into someone else, because then you find yourself inside him and this is not interesting — but entering into relation with his consciousness which is within him, for example when, for one reason or another, you don’t see things eye to eye; one sees them in one way, the other in another. If people are reasonable they do not quarrel. But if they are not reasonable, they begin quarrelling. Then, instead of quarrelling, the best thing to do is to enter into the other’s consciousness and ask yourself why he says things like that, what is it that pushes him to do this or say that? What is the inner reason, what is his vision of things which makes him take this attitude? It is extremely interesting. If you do this, immediately you stop being angry. First thing: you can no longer be angry. So this is already a great gain. But also, if the other continues being angry, it has no effect on you. … And then, later, one can try to identify oneself more perfectly and prevent the movements of division and deformation and stop quarrels. Very useful.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Identification, pp. 144-149

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.