I am very gratified and humbled by the response to my previous entry, There is One Way We Can All Make a Difference in the World, published by Elephant Journal as How to Break the Epidemic of Violence.
I invest however much time I happen to have on writing for this blog—almost always less than I’d prefer—but I found a decent block of time to write that one. At the end, when I saw what I had, I wanted to share it—even if no one connected with it.
Then, to my surprise, people did connect—including a website best known for dating advice.
But I’m not sure about this reception. I’ve only received positive feedback, which can’t possibly be the whole truth. After all, I brushed aside any notion of government effectiveness, surely ruffling the feathers of all the liberals out there. Look at the recent Supreme Court victories for healthcare reform and gay rights—government can work!
The article also comes off as hopelessly idealistic. I admit it. I ask for the best of everyone, and it’s just not going to happen. So where are all the pragmatists to tell me so?
There’s too much politeness. Perhaps it’s hard to argue against a call for more love in the world. I don’t know; I wouldn’t want to try.
I have found myself re-reading it excessively. I still think it’s good work. I didn’t quite know what I was aiming at when I started writing, but after some dalliance I think I arrived at a good place. I trimmed the fat on the rewrites and gave it an even, measured flow. It’s all heavily inspired by Buddhist philosophy, though I made a point of not using Buddhist terminology.
Now that I’ve combed through it so many times, I have a better sense of what I was really trying to say. It’s all there, but the emphasis wasn’t quite on the right point. If I had to write it again, I’d delve further into the idea of choice. That’s the fulcrum on which my ideas sit.
It’s always better to have people willing rather than unwilling. A strength exercised upon the unwilling—no matter how powerful—never lasts. History proves it time and time again. You need only look at the Middle East to see that truth at work. All “gains”, in time, are erased. No peace will ever be imposed from without. They must find the impetus for peace from within.
Certain levels of authority are easier to impose upon people than others. You can effectively impose restrictions on conduct in many circumstances—i.e., no groping women, no torturing animals, no killing people, etc. These are actions that leave behind physical evidence. Institute a large enough punishment, and endow an authoritative body/bodies with the power to enforce it, and you’ve deterred most people. Many such actions also carry the burden of deviation from moral norms. Guilt is usually enough to dissuade people, and if pursued anyway, guilt often breeds a healthy regret.
But how do you impose a change on the non-physical—thoughts and feelings?
You can’t. Not usually.
Try demanding love or respect. See what happens. I once had a boss that basically demanded it of her employees. She was universally disdained.
The reality is that while most people can, to a certain extent, be told what to do, they will not be told what to think. Not in any sort of direct way. If you want to work upon people’s minds, you have to do it on the sly. Advertising is one such method.
The North Korean regime is an interesting case. How has it managed to stay in power for so long? Notwithstanding outside factors (Chinese support in ongoing geostrategic maneuvering with the West) the short answer is brainwashing. They’ve built a frightening cult of personality around their Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. The people have been conditioned with a very confused fear-as-love feeling for him. Or, they’re putting on a show of love out of fear. It’s hard to say which. Probably both. But the point is, there’s a deranged psychological experiment going on there, one whose practices would never be tolerated in a proper society.
In short, actions can sometimes be dictated, but thoughts and feelings, via acceptable means, often cannot.
Dylann Roof hated black people, but until he committed murder, there was no crime. It is not illegal to harbor hate in your heart, nor could it be. However, as soon as he acted upon that hate, it was within our power to remove him from society.
I spent my previous article arguing against the never-ending proposals for a response to action in cases such these. The action is not the root; the thought is. Poisonous thoughts and feelings are the wellspring from which this violence comes. Following that line of thinking, and knowing the futility of imposing ones thoughts upon another, I advocated the choice to love. Don’t stop the bullets or incarcerate the man who fired them—replace the hatred that set it all in motion with something better. Give him a better choice—give him love—and hope he takes it as his banner.
That’s a conversation that we as a nation don’t seem to want to have. We’d rather debate removing the Confederate flag from as many places as possible. How is that the biggest headline tangentially related to the Charleston shootings? It doesn’t matter how the debate shakes out—it will not prevent the next Charleston. You know that. I know that. But there it is anyway—the big headline. Every day.
I wonder now—as I’ve long wondered—why that is. I suspect that people find this avenue of approach disempowering. Choice. Leave it to others to do or not to do. That’s scary. We’re expecting people to make the right choice, and they won’t always do it. We want the cold-hard certainty of results, and we want them now. We can get rid of those Confederate flags by, like, Tuesday. The shooter celebrated the Confederate flag. No flag—no racial shootings. Simple!
Yes, except it doesn’t make any fucking sense.
And honestly, I don’t see what’s disempowering about adding more love to the world. Unlike just about every other proposal for change, choosing love is something that each and every one of us is capable of doing every day. You have that power right now, and the power to exercise it. It’s impossible to see just how far our love can reach. It’s slow: a love that builds to touch everyone, everywhere will take a long, long time. You and I won’t live to see it. It’s a job that’s never done, but it’s a job we can all do. It is not disempowering. Quite the opposite.
But it requires us to change. Maybe that’s it: we don’t want to. Some guy in Charleston kills nine people, and suddenly I have to change the way I live my life? What did I do wrong?
If you have hate in your heart, you’ve condoned Roof’s hate. Yes, his hate was extreme, but it’s cut from the same fabric as yours. It’s all connected. We’re all connected. I’ve talked extensively about sharing love, but hate can be shared too. All feelings can. Your hate does not start and stop with you.
Can one kind word save the world? I believe it can. If you accept that, then similarly, one word spoken in anger can destroy it.
Choose something better for yourself, and that choice may ripple onward to someone who chooses similarly—someone who might have chosen otherwise.