Stepping into the moment

Deepak Chopra describes stepping into the moment as those rare times when our mind is in the present — it becomes silent or generates the vibration “aah.” He suggests that present moment experiences reflect gaps in our perpetual, inner dialogue. Meditation is a way to enter that gap directly.

Robert Carkhuff, whose groundbreaking work in helping and human relations led to a revolution in interpersonal skills training, writes that the “immediacy” response is one of the most powerful tools in a skillful helper’s hands. Immediacy is dealing directly with what’s going on in the moment between two people. It involves naming in the here and now exactly what is transpiring in a relationship — thoughts, feelings, thematic behaviors, values, energy level, or level of genuineness. Observing and responding to the immediate dynamics of the relationship transforms the moment from talking about an issue to experiencing fully what’s happing right now. Experiencing “THIS” is more powerful than talking about “THAT.”

Clearly, Martin Luther King stands out as someone who stepped into a moment and transformed a whole nation with his “I have a dream speech,” and his leadership in the march to Montgomery on March 25, 1965. He led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the Alabama capitol after a 5-day, 54 mile march from Selma, Alabama, where protesters weathered vicious violence in pursuit of equal rights.

Stepping into a moment can also mean rising to the challenge in a high stakes situation. In the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan, who became a United States citizen after emigrating from Pakistan and later completing Harvard law school, demonstrated powerfully what stepping into a moment looks like and feels like. As a Muslim father of an American soldier who died in Iraq in 2004 protecting his fellow soldiers, Khan delivered the most moving and impactful speech of either convention. When his son received orders for Iraq, Khan asked him, “how do you feel about the whole Iraq deal?” His son responded, “That’s not my concern and that’s not my pay grade. My responsibility is to make sure my unit is safe.” Khizr Khan became a social media and cable news sensation when he waved a pocket Constitution and accused Mr. Trump of never having sacrificed anything or anyone. More importantly, by stepping into this moment, he may have made more impact than any of the dozens of other speakers. Yes, Barack, Bill, and Biden all delivered amazing speeches and Michelle definitely stepped into the moment and made something big happen with her speech, but Khan outshined them all.

I’ve been fortunate to know a few people in my life who can step into a moment and make something big happen. I’ve seen Barry Cohen take command of highly charged moments, and shift the energy in a positive direction. I’ve seen Bob Carkhuff take on established interests and make impassioned pleas for growth. I’ve seen Bill O’Brien quiet unruly, divisive crowds with his brilliant analysis and perceptive insights. I’ve seen Artie Egendorf, transfix a room with his deep understanding of energy’s way and his incredible command of language and literature.

I don’t see myself as a “big moment” person, but thinking about this post made me ask the question, “what can us ordinary mortals do to step into moments and make a difference?”

My wife was a special education teacher for almost 40 years. I saw the results of her work with special needs children. It seemed magical to me how she could take a dyslexic first grader who couldn’t read a word, and get them above grade level in less than a year. Her deep expertise in literacy education, her endless patience, and huge heart combined to get amazing results. But it’s what happened in pivotal moments along the way that forged relationships and created conditions for magic to occur. I call that stepping into a moment and making something big and important happen.

In my work as an executive coach, I occasionally experience defining moments that change the dynamic of the relationship from pouting to re-purposing. It may be when I confront a client when I hear him or her complain about income when the person is already in the top 1% of earners in the US. Or it could be the way in which I present hard-hitting, 360 -feedback that shocks clients into taking a deeper look at who they are and how they behave. The way in which those discussions take place can create a high-impact moment that may lead to lasting change in the person’s life.

I believe we all have the chance, indeed the requirement, to step into this moment in history with the up-coming election. The stakes are enormous for the US and for the world. The next president will not only influence economic and social policy, he or she will also appoint new members of the Supreme Court and will command the most powerful military in the world. Unfortunately, emotions may play a larger role than our intellect in this election.

There are good reasons for people to feel angry, alienated, and afraid. They have been manipulated with pandering and promises for many years. They have seen a higher portion of their income going to rent with no raise in pay (50% now pay more than 30% of their income on rent). They have seen a dysfunctional government degenerate into divisive gridlock with very little evidence of legislation that would make a difference in their lives. They have seen their tribal status diminish as the percentage of whites in the population continues to shrink. And they have seen the privileged elite gain ever increasing wealth while engaging in egregious corruption. Their feelings are understandable.

What I have learned from a lifetime of defining moments is that people are only willing to hear my thoughts and ideas if they believe I have made an honest attempt to understand their feelings, i.e. I had to earn the right to initiate by demonstrating understanding of the other person’s point of view. Thus, it’s important to acknowledge the feelings people have, even though you might not share those feelings or experience their reasons for those feelings. Respectful responsiveness and innovative initiative lead to high impact moments.

I have also learned that some beliefs are so entrenched that it doesn’t matter how compelling or substantive your alternative view may be; some people are simply not willing to budge on certain positions whether it’s anti-choice, anti-science, anti-liberal, pro-gun, or pro religious revelation. No matter how important the message is or how much evidence weighs against their beliefs, they refuse to leave their bubble.

There are plenty of reasons in this election, however, to make this decision on evidence instead of emotion. Quite simply, as President Obama expressed, Donald Trump is a dangerous demagogue who is fueling fear and hate among the disenfranchised. He has no qualifications or demonstrated competence in leading a government. This decision needs to be more intellectual than emotional, and one that is based on a calm and clear analysis of the facts.

THIS is an opportunity for all of us not only to demonstrate understanding to those who are suffering from low wages and inequality, but also to make compelling and convincing arguments why Donald Trump will only exacerbate their problems. I am hoping that enough of us will step into this moment and make something big happen — defeat Donald Trump and elect Hillary, the most qualified and ready person for the job. I don’t care if you don’t like her or if you believe the cartoon version of her character. She is the right choice for the job and the right voice for the country.

On November 8, it may be useful to listen to some of Deepak Chopra’s advice: step into this moment and let your mind be in the present — silent with a healthy vibration. Meditate on the facts. Let go of your emotions. THINK. SPEAK. ACT. VOTE. The consequences are too big to let a small person win.

Originally published at Perspectives & Possibilities.