Better Together has another connotation here in Scotland. It was the mantra of the campaign against Scottish Independence and now that Britain is in the throws of the run up to a general election there's not much sign of better together. Rather there's suspicion between political parties and declarations of who they will not enter into a coalition with. Every day there's promises from the main parties which pander to their constituencies, whether that be the poor or the rich. So many promises, some of which are unlikely to be delivered and some of which have proved unsuccessful in the past. It's as though nothing else in happening in the world. But I came across an interesting idea recently - political mindfulness. There's even an all-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness in the Westminster Parliament
Mindfulness has become very popular, especially in the NHS, and a good practice for stress management. It's used to combat mental illness which in Britain is growing. It means focussing on the present moment, being honest about feelings and anxieties, recognising the context in which one finds oneself. It's about listening not only to our own inner struggles but also to the cries of the world. Is it possible to use it in politics and hopefully bring about a bit more wisdom and a lot less hot air?
I heard of the idea of political mindfulness came from an article in Thinking Faith, the on-line journal of the British Jesuits. The author, Rosemary Boyle, suggests that there is a move away from 'quality of life' politics to one which panders to fear and causes anxiety among voters. Mindfulness might be a way of overcoming this. She suggests :
"Perhaps there could be a new political ‘mindfulness’. This might entail acknowledging and attending to people’s feelings , particularly fears – not stoking them either by repressing fears or working them up into irrational panic; and most of all by not interpreting a fearful feeling as a trigger for action. How you interpret and help people to understand their anxieties and most importantly what you do about those feelings is a moral and practical question. Playing on people’s fears is not and should not be used as a way of getting elected".
Well this is certainly true but hard to imagine politicians truly listening to people's fears and anxieties and writing a manifesto to answer these, though they might think they are doing just that. I suspect manifestos are more about bolstering the fears of the politicians themselves that they don't get elected. But it's good to know that many MPs have done mindfulness courses to help them face difficult issues and decisions. That it's being taken seriously. That there's a plan to have a Parliamentary Inquiry on how the UK can become a more mindful nation. But mindfulness might be dangerous if it encourages acceptance of the status quo, if it doesn't look at the social problems that militate against human flourishing, if it doesn't have a concern for the common good, if it doesn't have compassion for the marginalised and alienated.
Mindfulness is basically a religious practice, particularly Buddhist, but like any religious practice it doesn't make much sense in isolation and needs both wisdom and compassion to make it meaningful.