“I Don’t Buy It”

A common rebuttal to the topic of attachment is “Attachment is associated with caring and getting things done; you can’t affect change powerfully without being attached!” Behind this is likely the worry that energy, commitment, and passion reside within attachment. However, while attachment can be a fuel for action, so can inspired vision, committed action, and a plethora of nonviolent strategies. Fear can be a motivator, and so can love.

Consider that:

  • Even intense preferences are not always attachments. Attachment is a binding of oneself to a preference. One might strongly defend a preference, yet remain unattached by retaining openness and curiosity. Committed, persistent, compassionate action can be experienced with presence and love.
  • With a commitment to inspired preference, we are more likely to create deep, lasting change.

Preference is Not a Doormat

It is an orientation and motivation for direction and action! It stems from our current understanding of needs (our motivating forces of life) and a belief in a ‘best’ way to meet those needs. For example:

  • “I’m hungry!” (need sustenance)
  • “I really want to see my best friend” (need connection)
  • “These laws / systems are unjust!” (need justice / consideration)

The actions we take towards these needs are heavily influenced by our stories and physical reactions to our circumstances. In a state of fear/Right and Wrong, we are more likely to respond violently – mentally, verbally, or physically. In a state of conscious, creative presence, we are more likely to respond with intentional, directed, and compassionate purpose. Remember, needs can be met in many ways, often internally.

You can hold preference with extraordinary passion and take extraordinary action while still maintaining conscious compassion for others.

Consider these three examples:

  1. You have planned (and asked in advance) for a day off from work to spend some quality time with your niece/nephew, but realize the schedule has changed and you’ll be needed in the office that day. You approach your manager to convey the importance of that day off to you and explore other options.
  2. You’re excited about a vacation you’re planning for your family. You’re sure they’ll love going hiking in a nearby National Park, but when you present your plans to them, they remark that they’d rather go to the beach. You spend more time researching all the fun things they can do at the National Park, and approach them again.
  3. Your partner is interested in a polyamorous relationship. You feel uncomfortable with that, worried about the implications. You share your worries and make clear requests (with feelings and needs) about boundaries.


Now, consider in all of the above, you hear a ‘NO.’ Now what?

Consider how you will hear the no and respond. What other philosophies & tools seem relevant?

  1. “No” from your manager about a day off
  2. “No” from your family about going to a National Park
  3. “No” about boundaries and polyamory

Bigger Examples: Powerful Preference in Nonviolent Action

In this interview, Martin Luther King Jr. gives details on his non-violent philosophy. Notice his depiction of violence as a failure to see all available options. In his view, violence is born out of an narrow, reactionary view of one’s circumstances, whereas a detached, broadminded approach retains the potential for non-violent action.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from Britain. He inspired nonviolent liberation leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. to lead similar movements that emphasized reconciliation and the dismantling of institutionalized racism.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.”

“As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

While nonattachment is not the same as nonviolence, nonattachment supports the sustained compassion and motivation characteristic of nonviolence in a restorative justice sense (rather than punishment). Each of the people above was committed to a mindset of equanimity and compassion for those with whom they held differing beliefs. It is within this commitment that they spurred movements of lasting, connecting change.

As mentioned earlier, attachment or preference is not a change in what you do, but a change in the mentality and consciousness with which you do it. The mentality in which we formulate our action has a significant impact on our strategy / behavior.

“Remember that you can accept the reality of change while also doing what you can to help things change for the better. Nothing about opening to the changing nature of both internal experiences and external conditions means that we should pursue wholesome ends with wholesome means any less wholeheartedly.” – Rick Hanson, Ph.D. Psychologist

What do You Think?

Consider these two questions for yourself:

  • What’s a scenario in which attachment (in the way it’s offered at the top) would more consistently lead to a ‘better’ long term outcome than preference?’
  • What does attachment offer you/us?