Finding Peace in Toxic Times

5 mantras to help us see and do better.

I’ve just returned from a peace and prosperity conference in Florida, with leaders from around the world locked in intense conversations on how to BE.THE.CHANGE. We’re tired. Hungry for new air. We think common ground can be found. That we can occupy space less primitively and more rationally. There’s a bit of optimism swirling—maybe it’s possible to live and love and work in peace? It can’t be THIS. HARD. to get there.

But it is. We break from our windowless room to soak in West Palm Beach. The news sucks away our breath. It’s shocking, and yet not shocking. More violence. Hate crimes. Tragedy on replay.

There are more questions than answers. Will we ever find peace? Why is common ground so uncommon? What will it take for us to get to a better place?

Polarization has set a raging wildfire and we are inhaling toxic fumes. Here are five mantras to help us find and spread new air:

  1. See the smokescreen. When we’re scared, we’re less apt to see that there are people all around who are dousing gasoline and leaving trails of smoke that cloud our vision to see and do better. We start believing there are no safe patches of ground to join forces and form brigades so that we can put this fire out together. People who do this see those they disagree with as opponents, using every trick in the polarized playbook against them. They refuse to listen or allow a different side to show up without needling, poking, and ripping it apart. They build walls instead of bridges.
  2. Get mad at the fire. We didn’t start it, but WE. MUST. put it out. Polarization isn’t working for any of us, except those that hold power. The extremes between in-and-out groups according to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age and beyond are keeping us facing off against each other instead of challenging the original fire starters and the ongoing gasoline dousers. We are embroiled in inherited battles that encourage us to fight. Everyone is trained to believe that the other side is totally opposite, that there’s no common ground to be found. We have to resist this.
  3. Feelings aren’t facts. Brain science tells us that when we’re scared, we’re less rational. That we’re more likely to pick sides and yield to groupthink, instead of seeing and doing better. We are a complex species. We are undoubtedly primitive, but capable of reasoning. We can unhook ourselves from the bait of raw emotions.
  4. No to me, yes to we. Join the human team. We have more in common than we’re led to believe. What if we all agreed to be conscious, loving, respectful global citizens instead of defending our own geographic and ideological turf to the point of hate and violence? What if we found our way onto the human team and took every measure possible to spread peace and love and light to each other? Brain science shows that living this way leads to both better individual and collective outcomes.
  5. Breathe new air. We can’t keep getting triggered and miss the chance to see that:
  • The people with the crystals in their pockets might not be as different as the ones with the rosary beads in theirs.
  • The people wearing jeans have just as important things to say as the ones in suits.
  • The people with bindis on their foreheads have something in common with those who have ashes on theirs.
  • What’s “natural” to you isn’t the same for everyone.
  • First looks don’t tell us much at all.
  • Where we are born and live doesn’t mean we have to stay in our corners forever.
  • We want more of the same things than we’re taught to realize, but we won’t find peace without finding some common ground under our feet.
  • We’re all lost in our own ways and can’t find our way out when we’re building walls instead of brigades.
  • If we allow our reactions to be based only on what we can see through the smokescreen of someone else’s negative behavior, we miss the chance to set the world on fire in a whole new direction.


Lee, K (2018). Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking. Learn What it Takes to Be More Agile, Mindful and Connected in Today’s World. Deerfield Beach, FL. HCI Books.

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