It's all around us. Sometimes in us.
What can we do about it? Morally, what should we do about it?
In times like these, people like me, artists mostly, say things like "make love, not war" and "love is the answer" and people of various faiths say things like "pray for peace" or "pray for----"
People like me know prayer doesn't solve war, prayer doesn't stop murders, prayer doesn't suddenly enlighten an entire country into peaceful unity. But, does love?
"Return with love."
If someone hits you, turn the other cheek. If someone is killing you...let them?
Here is the problem. You can believe and say that violence is never the answer until someone attacks you--you want to survive, so you fight back. It's an instinct as old as time.
War never made sense to me. How can we chastise children on the playground for using fists and rocks and sticks to solve disagreements and tell them to use their words, then when they turn 18, send them off to another country with a gun and bombs to solve disagreements they were never even remotely a part of in the first place?
I love words. I love words more than your average person. A word can make me cry at its beauty. Words have left me speechless. Words have helped me understand perspectives that were foreign to me. Words have inspired me and broken my heart. I believe in the power of words. I also know that often words are only as good as the person listening to them. Words fall on deaf ears. Words are misspoken, misunderstood, and taken woefully out of context.
When you are a child and you are hungry, you may ask for food, you may sign for it, you may start to cry if you do not receive the thing you said you needed, and then you may start to scream, and when you have yelled as loud as your little lungs will allow, your face red and soaked with tears, your little body may fling plastic toys in a tiny violent rage until your actions cannot be ignored as your words were, but must be dealt with in order to prevent further damage. No one teaches a small child to act that way--that is simply the chain of instincts ingrained within us as humans wired to survive as long as possible on this earth.
If you are lucky enough to have time in your life where you are not JUST trying to survive, if you are lucky enough to have compassionate, loving, intelligent, well-spoken people around you, if you are lucky enough to read history books, if you are lucky enough to experience theatre, music, and art...you may learn a trait that counters this instinct. You may learn about peace, forgiveness, about how to calm yourself down when you are angry and ignored in order to collect the best words possible to make your point heard--to make your stillness and your words as powerful as your fists.
And if you learn this counter-intuitive trait of returning violence with love, with ears, with a patience to educate those who have not been so lucky as to learn this trait...you may still find yourself, at the end of your rope, violence all around you and sneaking inside of you, yelling, "Enough is enough! Words have failed! Peaceful action has failed!" You may throw your plastic toys on the ground and reach for your gun.
I understand that. I understand that now in a way that I never did before, and yet still, despite understanding the impulse, the stronger beat within me persists, "Violence is never the answer." Violence only breeds violence. At all costs we must always strive to war with words, with compassion, with a constant, unfailing admittance that we do not always have the answers, that we are all fallible human beings, that there is more to learn in listening to each other with intent to understand than there is in clinging to your own experience as the end-all fact...at all costs, in all circumstances, a return with love always bests a return with violence.
What does it mean to love, though? The word love in the English language can be full of vague definitions from the mundane to the profound--here is a word with all the potential in the world that is severely failing us. Paul's definition in 1 Corinthians may be the best definition for our English version of the profound side of the word "Love" as we could ever hope to find. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
I included the last half of that because I find it deeply moving if you substitute the Christian specific religious aspects of prophesying and relying on "god" to complete you, and instead consider how we are incomplete as people, only seeing our own reflection in the mirror, but when we become intimately acquainted with our fellow humans, we begin to see the story more fully--it really hits home for me. This has been my experience again and again--when I sought to understand that which I feared because I did not understand it and had only been told it was in some way "other or bad"--I discovered that it was not, in fact, "other or bad" but beautiful in its sameness and in its difference.
Next, then, we must ask who deserves this profound kind of love? Does everyone? If we must qualify it--who qualifies? And could there be a time when they stop qualifying for our profound love? If someone is killing you, should you love them? Should you show them love? Should you keep no record of wrongs? Really?
Malala Yousafzai said this when Jon Stewart asked her what her reaction was to learning the Taliban wanted her dead: "I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, 'If he comes, what would you do Malala?' then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.' But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.' Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well.' And I will tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'"
When I was a child I had these strange fantasies where someone would kidnap me and I would talk them out of harming me. I would convince them with my words to not only let me go, but have a total change of heart. I was a weird kid. I'm a weird adult. I was in Jamaica several years ago and left the "safe area" for (reasons--that's a whole other story) and before I knew it I was surrounded by a growing group of men who were following me and my friend. They may have been harmless. I didn't know. I felt threatened. I felt how vulnerable I was--if they wanted to overtake me physically they could have easily done that and no one would have been the wiser. My instinct? Ask them about their hopes and dreams, their lives--and I did, and they answered, and we were all instantly just humans again. Humans all seeking the same safety, prosperity, and lightness of being as each other. We arrived safely back at our destination and parted ways amicably.
I think there may be one thing missing in Paul's definition of Love--I think this is the most important component of Love and one that should be permanently affixed to any definition of profound love between people or in a community. The active, constant act of seeking to understand another's point of view when it differs from your own--the compassionate response of listening, fully engaging, and responding with clear words that are unmarred of easy slurs and put-downs. No one actively listens after being called a derogatory remark. Better to not reply at all if you are unable to steer the dialogue back to a respectful territory than to stroke a fire that is already burning.
In some ways I am conflicted when it comes to pacifism. I wrote a play about it--currently working on turning it into a screenplay. Originally, I wanted to examine the seeminlgy thin line between pacifism and masochism. Is there really a line at all? Why is one revered and the other chastised? Because Masochists are more likely to seek out violence against themselves? Because they derive pleasure from it? Yes, certainly. But when put in the context of domestic violence, for example--if a woman stays in a situation where she is being abused and she does not fight back because she is against violence, or she does not fight back because on some level she feels she deserves it...the outcome is hardly different. Perhaps the pacifist manages to escape and find safety while the masochist stays until she meets her violent end. Perhaps not. At the end of the play I came to the surprising conclusion that I actually believe, in some cases, violence may be the appropriate reaction. Now, I feel I must start back at the beginning. Solve for X again. Is it ever okay to meet violence with violence for self-defense? Malalal seemingly profoundly answered, "No." My gut says to fight back, not with intent to kill but intent to live.
If someone is killing you, what do you do? What are your weapons? What is noble? What works? I'm sorry--but more guns just don't seem to be working...how do we not agree on this yet? Are there more benefits for the world in the big picture if you were to die while proclaiming "I forgive you! Let's try harder to understand each other! You are my fellow human! I love you!" Then to die while firing your gun and taking another life with you? In times like these we share Martin Luther King Jr.'s words, we share John Lennon's words...some share things like Hammurabi's law of retaliation "an eye for an eye"--when Christians share this quote I just shake my head. While that may have been the sentiments of the 6th King of the first Babylonian dynasty, it is quoted in Matthew 5:38-42 within this context: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
Doormat or saint? Masochist or pacifist?
I realize that I (reformed evangelist, current atheist) have now quoted from the Bible twice, to which I would like to say that I think there are positive things, well written things, profound and intelligent and poetic things to be found in virtually all religions (I happen to be most intimately familiar with Christianity, so those verses were readily available to me) but there are also many things I whole-heatedly disagree with in every religion that I have studied and sought to understand. We all have things...beliefs, viewpoints we encounter in life that feel on some gut-level true to us. We all have facts we encounter that we cling to--even if others throw countering "facts" at us. "Facts" these days being such as they are--i.e. readily available for any point you may hope to prove, but less easy to...well, prove. We go through life and try the best we can to make sense of it all and our place within it. In my life I have been Christian, I have had money, I have been atheist, I have been poor, I have identified as straight, I have come out as bi. I have never been black. I have never been a police officer. I have never been Muslim. I have never been transgendered. I have never been Latino. I have (almost) but never not had a place to call "home." I have never been president. I have never lived in an active war zone. I have never been a refugee. I have never been a victim of gun violence or lost a loved one to gun violence. I have never been treated as a suspect simply because of the color of my skin. There is so much I have not and likely will never experience that it would be foolish of me--it would be foolish of all of us--not to listen to each other, not to ask "How are you doing today? What are your hopes and dreams? What makes you feel loved and safe? What scares you? How can I help?"
Don't cling so strongly to what you know that you can't hear what others know. Don't stop listening to the conversation because you don't feel you can relate or have anything new to contribute (sometimes the best thing you can contribute is your ears and an open mind). Don't stop digging deeper into the compassion you have available to you as a human. Don't stop trying every day, every minute to find better ways to take care of each other, to understand each other, to protect each other, to love each other. It's a complicated world we live in--things aren't always right or wrong...things are complex as hell. There are a million sides to every story. Start each day by asking to hear just one of them.
#ReturnWithLove #ReturnWithEars #HowAreYouToday #WhatsYourStory #HowCanIHelp