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Wait…We’re Not Exceptional?

Countless barrels of ink and pixels have been devoted to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times this week.

And in the hornet’s nest of back-and-forth on human rights, foreign policy, and author credibility, a very significant part of the message has been lost.

Namely, the part where he criticizes Obama for calling Americans “exceptional.

In Putin’s words, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

While there are obviously parts of the letter that warrant an international face palm, on this point I have to agree.

Because the things that get us into the most trouble and make us the most miserable tend to start with some form of separation.  

Comparison traps, for example, are just personal measurements against someone else’s “specialness.”

Anger is rooted in division, e.g. You did this.”

And let’s not forget, the Middle East wouldn’t even be in this mess if there were no attempts to make one form of religion more “exceptional” than another.

That thought system is backwards.

So what if – right now – we stopped viewing everyone and everything as “separate” from ourselves?

The colleague you despise? How would you treat her differently if you genuinely believed she were no different than you?

The family member or ex you never forgave? Same thing.

Now let’s make it really interesting.

Terrorists, traffickers, prisoners, child abusers, Westboro Baptist Church members…we view these groups and many others as the scourge of the earth, but what if we could see through even the thickest layers of darkness to the equality at our core?

What if we could accept everyone – regardless of how heinous their crime – as a human being no more or less special than anyone else?

Think about that for a moment.

If this idea makes you insolent and outraged, guess what? That’s your darkness and, to truly be mindful, you have to face it.

In other words, you have to get honest about what’s going on there because only honesty can create the vulnerable state required for growth.

Darkness can’t drive out darkness, remember?

That’s precisely the thinking that got us here in the first place.

I know this is hard work and – believe me – my job is not to excuse illegal, aggressive, or hurtful behavior. There are indeed times when the best course of action is to cut someone out of your life, change companies, hire a good lawyer, or all of the above.

But it IS my job to help you get rid of perspectives that aren’t useful and separation is among the most damaging.

So condemn the act.

Condemn the darkness.

Condemn the circumstances that drove the vicious behavior.

But free the person.

Because only in freeing them will you free yourself – and only then will you have the mental white space to ask the questions that matter most.

What am I supposed to learn here?

How can I use this to benefit others?   

Very few of us will ever reach this point, but the good news is you can – and when you do you’ll be participating in the solution versus just feeding the problem.

Now, wouldn’t that be exceptional?

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