Ardena Joy Cota (Courtesy Photo)

It may tickle some of you to know that I started to title this piece, “I Have No Idea WTF Are We Doing Here?” or “What I’m Really Thinking?” JK but seriously, I don’t. I don’t pretend to know what the meaning of all of this is (if it’s even possible to know) but it seems to me that there are certain theories about the matter that are more beneficial than others. For example, I start with the basic premise that while we’re here, we can learn to care about each other and work together for the common good. It’s a popular premise, one that I’ve adopted, further specified and augmented for myself. I simply believe that we are here to learn to love each other to the best of our ability. I look for the things, thoughts and ideas in my life that would hinder me and try to root them out. Please allow me to share some of my findings with you, if interested.)

“It’s my belief that there is no “other” and that the moment we begin to draw lines of division between people, even if they are based on “morality” we are sabotaging ourselves.”…

I don’t need to tell you that this year has been a difficult one for most of us. COVID-19 and the economic and social impact that it’s had have brought many new challenges. The simultaneous elections seemed to only increase tensions as we found ourselves debating about the present state of political affairs and our future. Vitriol and divisiveness littered our homes, media and thoughts and I wish I could say that I resisted the temptation to fall into that energy but I didn’t. I’m not proud of it. I’m even embarrassed to admit it to you but honesty and a desire for change compels me to tell the truth. I can chuckle about it now but it was bad. Given the opportunity to practice the principles that I espouse, in difficult times, I failed. I didn’t fail once. It was a series of frustrating, painful at times hilarious failures that kept occurring for months. The most trying conversations weren’t with acquaintances that you can easily take space from when needed or with people on the internet at a distance. These were up close and personal disagreements, with people that I love, respect and are close to me. Disagreeing with them was/is hard. It was like passing through the twilight zone. The people I thought I once knew had been inhabited by aliens and uttering things which contradicted the people I previously understood them to be. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around their perspectives. More than that, their perspectives enraged me and the conversations never got off the ground. I felt unsafe and unprotected by their outlook and my “fight or flight” response is almost always fight, so I did. It was bad. I was (sometimes) petty, spiteful and close minded.

What I realized (or always knew but didn’t care to recall or correct in the heat of the moment) was that while I was defending my morals and denouncing those that opposed them, my actions were, in those heated moments, very similar to the people I was denouncing.

I would watch myself, as if outside of my body, angrily steer the conversation into a wall of enraged, vituperative, passion, when I was fed up, not caring who was injured along the way. I didn’t want to behave that way but once the momentum got going I was seemingly incapable of stopping. My “observer self” just stood still, watched and waited for my inevitable crash.

In my view, my feelings were justified but my response was unproductive and immature. I hadn’t accomplished anything positive which is ironic because isn’t that the end goal of morality? Isn’t the point to have a positive effect on others’ lives, acknowledge and respect the humanity that we all share and to treat each other with kindness? It was a rough irony to accept and I had to ask myself “What if I hadn’t simply tried to explain but also demonstrated my perspective through my actions and tone in those conversations? Could/would that have made a difference? Might that have touched the part of the person I was trying to reach?

Am I capable of developing that capacity?

I think that at this point it’s important to remember to set aside questions of “right and wrong” (one, that’s where the ego comes in and two, beside the point I’m driving to) to focus on the objective and what we can control which is OURSELVES. Whatever it is that you believe, my question to you (to us) is, “Are your actions in accordance with what you say you’re about, even when you are faced with adversity?” In my case specifically, “Do my actions, even in something as seemingly simple as a difficult conversation always reflect the kindness, respect and consideration that I believe all people are entitled to? Honestly, not always. I can be quick to “other” you if our views don’t align with mine and very slow to try and understand anything about your concerns and guess what? That’s precisely the kind of thinking that I criticize in the classist, sexist, racist, homophobe, etc. We have to be very honest here. If our views in any way imply that another group of people are inferior, undeserving of love, condemned to suffer, then we are missing something. I’ve known religious people, atheist, Satanist, agnostic that could all fall into that description, so no one is exempt.

It’s hard but here’s the view that I try to maintain. THERE IS NO OTHER. There is only the US collectively. All of us are here, living together in this singular universe. We are all connected and each of our beliefs/action/inaction effects the whole of us. There are many things that are a matter of opinion but this fact is not one of those things. Here we are, existing. There is no “other” and the moment we begin to draw lines of division, and separate, even if that separation is based in “morality” and the defense of people, we are sabotaging ourselves as we attack each other.

I believe that if we are wise we will learn to leave space for people to be whatever it is that they are and express whatever it is that they believe. If we are wise we will listen, search for and try to understand the WHY … Why people are the way they are and begin to relate to one another on that basis. To truly consider what they’ve experienced. This, I believe, is where a potentially productive discussion can begin. We have to extend grace to one another. Grace that can charm even a monster out from under their hiding place, make them feel safe as well as the rest of us.

2020 has been difficult but in a way, I think we needed it to help us put many things into perspective and to show us where the work needs to be done. As strange as it might sound, I, even now consider this year a blessing as I remember, “A seed neither fears light nor darkness but uses both to grow.”

I’m going to keep working on this because I believe that even if just some of us acquire that kind of grace, that could have a good impact on the whole of US ALL.

Ardena Joy Cota is a mother, activist, writer, award-winning recording artist, former elected official and author of “The Art of Choosing Joy; A Script in the Making of My Life.”