I first saw what has come to be known as ‘the human microphone’ during Occupy. This is where one person speaks, and those around him or her repeat it, so that others can hear. They begin with saying ‘Mic check!’ ‘MIC CHECK’, the crowd replies. This is a time when we all need to repeat the best things that we hear, a time when we all suffer and struggle together, and whatever wisdom we can gather needs to be spoken far and wide.
Even before we could process what happened in Orlando, the terrible events in Baton Rouge, and St. Paul, and then Dallas filled the news. And before we could take the measure of what happened there, and respond to it, there is now another horror to try to cope with.
It’s not just the single event that’s frightening, but the number of them, happening one right after the other that has us at a loss for what to do. Soon enough though, we’ll have the renewed chorus calling for revenge.
We’re on a long road together, my family, and what we can say for sure is that our past has been a violent one, with fear and anger and hostility marking each generation. Where will we go from here?
It seems to me there are two choices, becoming more plain to see as each week goes by, with just more and more news that is almost too much to take in.
The first choice we can see being played out already – in fact it’s brought us right up to where we are today – and that is, we can respond to people’s madness and aggression with more even fear, and demonization, and paranoia and violence in return. The other choice is love, and it’s what we need if we’re going to survive here.
In a flash yesterday I saw how those who would retaliate against ISIS or a racist police state with force have given up on believing there is another way. Their assumption is that love cannot overcome hatred, that only a greater violence can defeat ignorance and viciousness. Someone who thinks that way has already lost. Long before the Buddha said it, it was already true, and it will continue to be so: ‘Hatred never ceases by hatred, by love alone is hatred overcome’.
What happens when we stop grieving long enough to look, and we start to view all these events as showing us the measure of the lack of love in our world? We are looking then at the long road we’ve travelled to get here, and we’re looking at the choices that are right in front of us, now, today.
One way is the road of hatred. It is a reaction, and it makes us contract – it separates us from them. It puts us far from even wanting to understand the other, much less respond to their needs.
In 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the US went to war supposedly against radical Islam, and unleashed waves of destruction in the Middle East. What has that bought us?
In the early years of that war, Greg Mortenson published his memoir, Three Cups of Tea, where he tells of how he came to build literal bridges, and schools in Afghanistan. I calculated the daily cost back then of our war in terms of the number of schools and hospitals, roads and bridges we could have been building, of the seeds of goodwill we could have sewn for generations to come. Instead, this Empire we live in uses our resources to destroy, and to set in motion actions we will grieve for in the years to come.
Love works differently. Hard, or almost impossible as it may seem to be at times, it has a greater faith than this in our potential as human beings. Love is far seeing, both into the past, and in envisioning a future for us all where there is peace.
We need the wisdom these days of people like Bryan Stevenson, and Michelle Alexander, profoundly compassionate scholars, and people dedicated to their core to the principles of human rights.
Last night I caught a small segment on Charlie Rose, where (to paraphrase) Mr. Stevenson was describing how the real problem of slavery wasn’t in the owning of human beings, or their forced labor, it was the ideology of white supremacy that was its basis. He said, rightly, that the Civil War didn’t end that narrative, and so the struggle for human rights has been going on ever since.
If we believe that a racist cannot change, or that religious fanaticism cannot be altered, we will have no choice but to wall ourselves off from them, to prepare to fight, and even go out to meet them on their terms. That kind of reaction is understandable, after all. It is a reflex, and many people follow this impulse. But there is another way. In fact, there has to be, for all our sake.
We study so many things here, with all our vaunted freedom. Why can’t we study the roots of conflict, with the aim of making this a more just world? With the aim of creating peace?
To say what we already know, and bring it to the forefront and go from there: we spend billions on our entertainments, food and drink and the latest programs. We literally spend our time and creative resources on so many things of lesser value, turning away from what cries out, more and more, for our attention.
It’s not only that we need to understand, and to love the crazed, and the violent, and the dangerous we’re sharing this world with – but we need to address where they came from to the exact measure of what is needed. A thought here and there for them, between our moments of fear and despair will not do the work.
I can see another version of us – a parallel version – engaged, mature, giving our time generously, thinking deeply and then acting with vision for all of our sake. Can you see it too, in your best moments? If you can, then use your voice. Tell others what you know, and the best things you’ve heard. We need you. We need each other. Whatever gives you courage and hope, we need to hear it now.
because I can’t
afford to be submerged too long
but in making of these ruins
something altogether new
all this beauty that’s come before and that will be
reaches it’s hand out to you
won’t you come dance now?
I reach for this medicine again today because, like you, I’m hurting, and I’m afraid, and yet, this is not all that is in me, or in you, my dear friends and family. And so I send this out to you all with great love, and with faith.
– From A Buddhism for Progressives, Great Circle Publications, 2018