Essay Unity

The Unchaining and The Unveiling

Many think they know what is true, but really do not. It is our unexamined assumptions that give us a false sense of confidence, leading to self-righteousness. The end result of a divided self is a divided society. We have to learn to see and integrate other points of view. 2020 laid bare in even more stark relief the differences in mindsets and belief systems as the tiniest form of life—a virus called Coronavirus-19—ground the world to a halt.

In this century of awakening, we have to embark on two parallel paths to healing:

  • Our inner journeys to discern, re-examine, and unchain our attachments to institutions and platforms that profit from exploitation and dehumanization of our fellow human beings.
  • As collective groups, we have to transcend our tribal boundaries, learn to talk with each other again, build fields of empathy—and out of that, build shared understandings to unveil the truths that will bring healing and unity.

The Unchaining

The first step in our unchaining is to reclaim our responsibility to engage in critical thinking to guide our actions. We have to reduce the automatic formation of our views and beliefs by loud, divisive leaders and media that benefit from conflict. We have to acknowledge our own responsibility that we have abdicated to others. Most of us view institutions, governments, corporations, and all other large entities as omnipotent, and view ourselves—mere individuals—as insignificant. It takes a leap of faith to imagine that millions of micro-changes can eventually lead to mega change. For example, many people are leaving Facebook as they see the destructive power of social media, brilliantly portrayed in the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma.” Eventually, this will reduce the power of this institution and/or Facebook will become a more responsible entity, and subscribers will return.

Secondly, we have to recognize systems that benefit from feeding our ego and/or our tribe, and demonizing others. We can expand our consciousness to include care and concern for others, which has been the goal of all spiritual traditions. We begin to see the soul as the larger vessel encompassing our ego and connecting us to the source of all life and all that has been created. Whether we call that force Allah, God, Creator, Mother Earth, we begin to shift along the value spectrum below, developing our consciousness further:

  • Scarcity to abundance
  • Entitlement to responsibility
  • Blame to gratitude
  • Exclusion to inclusion
  • Judgement to appreciation
  • Self-righteousness to humility

As we reflect, we add to the pool of love rather than the pool of hate.  Sufis call this inner work the annihilation of the “nafs” (ego), and practice the discipline of self-examination continuously knowing that this is a battle with no end or goal, as it is human nature we are working with.

The Unveiling

The Outer Work is just as hard as the inner, if not harder. As we begin to soften our rigid beliefs about what is good or right, we are more open to hearing other beliefs. The next step is to engage with those who hold beliefs totally different than our own, i.e., engage in dialogue. Dialogue is an ancient practice held sacred in many traditions, but modern pressures, such as fragmented media, have created a fragmented society wherein dialogue is nearly impossible to sustain. The social fabric lacks organic rituals of dialogue. Modern society has resorted to creating forums and platforms for dialogue in a deliberate—almost artificial—manner, as NGO’s have been doing in conflict zones for decades (usually after the damage to repair and/or reconcile aggrieved parties).

If we can bring multiple perspectives to the table, we can begin the unveiling process.  There are many layers or veils we have to work through. As the “Ladder of Inference” shows, our mind is wired to build up and reinforce our beliefs in a mutually reinforcing cycle: we select information, we form assumptions and theories, we look for sources to reinforce those beliefs, and then only see information that further confirms those beliefs. Social media of course takes this basic human tendency to a much larger and destructive scale. Therefore, the unveiling or dialogue process begins by discerning and then sharing these rigid layers that form our beliefs, and resulting identity, with others.

In my work with Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslim community members in Manhattan (as part of The Dialogue Project in the 90’s), we used the broad principles of dialogue, such as suspending our own inner voice and its biases and limiting beliefs; listening to others with generous hearts; empathizing with others even if one cannot agree on the issue; and speaking in a way that values, appreciates and inspires others.  While it was rare for people to change their positions, the presence of empathy was palpable, whether it was a Palestinian listening to the embedded fear of the Holocaust in Jews and Israelis, or they in turn listening to the violent eviction of one of the attendee’s siblings from their home in Palestine.

In my continuing work on interfaith relations, I witness the deep respect and admiration that emerges for each other. I recommitted to this work after 9/11. The Ground Zero controversy attracted many haters to Lower Manhattan, where my oldest daughter still lives. One evening she called very upset and distraught because these protesters were standing in front of her building and holding signs reading “Muslims go home.” Being a born American, it was confusing, upsetting, and humiliating for her and our family. We were lucky to get off so lightly, as many have suffered much more. These days I feel such empathy for Asian Americans as they are being attacked due to the COVID-19 association with China.

In our own country, the January 6th insurrection on the Capitol shattered our own myths about our great democracy. It was a wake-up call for the USA within the larger wake-up call of the global COVID crisis. What inspired me is that people are responding to the wake-up call. For example, the recent documentary “Reunited States of America” ( released by Van Jones and Meghan McCain, spotlights bridge-building initiatives across our country, and we hope this small beginning will grow and flourish. “You cannot hate someone up close” says an interviewee in the documentary.

I have always believed that dialogue and violence cannot co-exist, and therefore one of the awakenings in this century has to be to bring back insaniyet, an Urdu and Turkish word that means humanism or “noble human behaviors.” We have to re-imagine what noble behaviors and dialogue would look like in our postmodern times and get to work on dismantling the systems that foster chaos and division. That is what this century of awakening is asking us to do.

About Mino Akhtar

Mino Akhtar retired after 40 years in corporate America as a management consultant in IT and Organizational Transformation and became a certified coach, facilitator and conflict resolution specialist. Originally from Pakistan, she grew up on four continents before settling in Bergen County, N.J. She writes a blog with the aim of spreading unitive consciousness, peace and harmony through cultivating intercultural understanding through her own life stories. She is the author of the forthcoming book Becoming Muslim in Americathe story of how a born Muslim found the spiritual peace of her faith in America.

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