09/10/2010 04:14 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mindfulness and Tolerance, Especially in Florida

Tolerance trumps hatred and mindfulness nurtures tolerance ... and, today, all three (tolerance, hatred and mindfulness) are thriving in Florida. Fortunately, tolerance and mindfulness go hand-in-hand and with these qualities, we can heal the world.

The earth is very, very small and each of us actively impacts others. It's not just the screamingly news-catching actions that affect the course of global events. It's any and every action -- whether positive, negative or neutral. Thing is, since we're generally responsible for our own actions, it's useful to notice how we participate within the ripples of larger influences.

So let's consider what's happening now in Gainesville, Florida where some people have rallied around a message of hatred (an essentially negative action). Now let's switch focus to the many other people who have taken notice and responded constructively (examples of positive actions). Then there's the rest of us ... and we're definitely not neutral if we have an opinion about the situation in Gainesville. What we do now makes a difference, for better or for worse.

Like so many others, I believe that by responding positively, we can transform this eruption of hatred into a more powerful movement of peace. Right now there's plenty of positive pressure on Pastor Jones and his congregation. This pressure is coming from the top down -- as it should -- and a great many political, military and spiritual leaders are speaking out against Jones' hateful vitriol and dangerous plans.

There's also an incredibly positive, pro-tolerance groundswell rising from the bottom up. And the bottom is the repository of our communities' and this country's vast strength. Remember, democracy is built from the bottom up.

The view from the bottom is yours and mine -- seen through the eyes of each of us as individuals. And the promoting tolerance begins within each of us -- and includes how we respond to other people's hatred, fear and anger. After all, responding in kind adds fuel to the fire, and this kind of fire burns hot and wild. We've seen book burnings before, and they're harbingers of horror. We do have the legal right to burn books, but that does not make doing so morally or ethically right.

We also have the legal right to argue angrily about Pastor Jones' rights, but wouldn't it be better to speak respectfully and mindfully, even as we profoundly disagree with other people's bigotry? It's time to preach tolerance while modeling the practice of peace. This is not passive acceptance, but proper action. Ethical action. Powerful protest.

Proper action requires cool heads and compassionate hearts. It means paying attention to what's actually happening in and around us in each moment. And, it's about slowing things down, staying present in the moment and not replaying the past conflicts or worrying over the future. In other words, cool heads apply mindfulness when considering the situation in Gainesville, and compassionate hearts cultivate tolerance across the world.

We know how to create compassionate change and take ethical action. In the last century Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi showed the way, and even now, the Dalai Lama and others continue to walk the path. Sacred scriptures from all traditions recount the timeless stories of holy men and women whose inner peace put an end to the conflict around them. Even today, we have leaders who strive to follow these examples. Yet ultimately the obligation to practice mindfulness and promote tolerance is yours and mine.

As the Jewish New Year dawns, I read words of inspiration from a Catholic priest and listen to wisdom recorded in the Koran. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are three great faiths among the diversity of the world's Wisdom Traditions. To my mind, the basic teachings are all essentially the same: compassion, ethics, proper action, and the Golden Rule (however it's called). And, across traditions my prayer remains the same: I pray for peace, for understanding and for tolerance -- here and everywhere -- and that includes Florida.

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