We are a world on the brink. Many of us feel a great deal of fear. Fear of the future, fear of one another, fear of losing what little we have left. We are stampeding towards the edge of a cliff.
Those who have paid attention to the stories of stampedes passed down by the generations before us understand exactly which cliff we’re headed towards.
The cliff is hatred.
At the bottom of the cliff is the realm of terrible deeds we shuddered over as children, horrible acts we could hardly bring ourselves to imagine, the sorts of things from which entire generations never recover.
For too long, we have listened to, and repeated to one another, a story of how the masses, i.e. most of us, are foolish. Ignorant. Incapable of governing ourselves. How we are hateful and poor in spirit and undeserving of more than we have.
It feels like a loving story when we say to ourselves and the people we love that we are not like the rest. We look out for our circle, the way no one else does. We are kind, intelligent, decent, and well-intentioned, the way no one else is.
We deserve everything we want. No one else does.
No one else does. These words are the dogs driving us ever closer to our collective misery and doom. Every time we turn to condemn one another, they grow more powerful. Every time we ignore the evil within and the good without, they grow more powerful.
The sheep at the front of the herd are the easiest to blame for the direction we’re all headed. The ones who can see the edge of the cliff already and who, instead of turning back, are screaming “CANONBALL!” Yet their confidence comes from the noise of the rest of us thundering on behind them in the exact same direction.
Here is the loving story: We are not better or worse than one another. We are all good. We all do evil things. We are all intelligent. We all do foolish things. We are all well-intentioned. We all hurt one another.
If only we could break free of the tight, fearful pack, we could verge off, away from the cliff, to the right, to the left, back the way we came, whatever makes sense to each of us, and make it to safety. But the ones on the right are fighting back against the ones on the left, and the ones on the left are pushing hard against the ones on the right, and most of those are pushing hard against the ones in the front, so we’re all stuck in a tight pack, running hard towards disaster, blaming one another all the way.
We are all capable of governing ourselves. Together. As long as we listen to one another. How bad must things get before we assume the mantle of responsibility? Before we trust that we can do a better job than whoever we’ve trusted with the task thus far? Before we stop saying we’re powerless and start proving that we're not?
Give it long enough and it won't matter whose fault it was. It won't matter which part of the pack we were in, the front, the sides, the back.
So let's not.
It can be extremely difficult exchanging ideas between people who see the world very differently from one another. People have such different associations with different concepts, different ideas of what is healthy and virtuous vs. insidious and upsetting. So I'm working on establishing some extremely basic definitions for use across belief systems. We need a common language to remind us of our mutual interests, like the need for respect, like the need to ask others what respect looks like to them, like the need to care about the answer.
GOOD: When we are nurtured
EVIL: When we are destroyed
THEM/THEY: Those who act without regard for us
US: Sentient life, all of it, regardless of creed, nationality, education level, socioeconomic status, race, gender, philosophy, and, importantly, behavior (i.e. even THEY are US)
Those few who do specifically set out to do evil to others, of these Chilean director, shaman, and philosopher Alejandro Jodorowsky says:
"a criminal (does not) exist who bears all the guilt:
all individual crime is a product of the family, the society, and history."
Pain comes from pain comes from pain. As another of my favorite artists, Zak and What Army?, said, "We're all escaping from the same hell"; the hell of the love we needed and didn't receive, the love we needed to offer and couldn't bring ourselves to, the hell of our failure to properly appreciate the love we do give and receive every day.
But the question remains: what do we do about THEM? They are, after all, hurting us, and allowing them to continue doesn't exactly show regard for us.
First, whatever we need to do to make ourselves safe (without becoming THEM), and second, whatever we can do to help THEM become one of US again.
Our aim for THEM can never be anything other than accountability and rehabilitation. Desire for retribution, vengeance, any wish of pain for another, is THEIR territory. By definition.
It's pretty understandable to want to punish some stranger as much as possible, to want to go easy on our loved ones. Protecting people from consequences is not loving. Important lessons are learned from consequences. Natural consequences are often the best spur for moral growth. And saving the really bad consequences for the people who fall outside of our circle of love is the perfect way to convince others to stop caring at all about OUR welfare. Like a FutureThreatsToOurHappiness machine, churning out more THEMs by the minute.
There is a philosophy of the universe that says there is enough to go around, enough for all of us to have what we want and need to be happy, yet in order for that to happen, we need to accept that everything might not happen exactly the way, or according to the timing we prefer. We can get what we want while still allowing the same for others. In fact, it's the only way to go about getting what we want that holds any promise of lasting happiness.