“History abounds with stories of individuals perpetrating the most destructive and harmful acts: killing and torture, bringing misery and untold suffering to large numbers of people. These incidents in human history can be seen as reflecting the darker side of our common human heritage. These events occur only when there is hatred, anger, jealousy, and unbounded greed. World history is a record of the effects of the negative and positive thoughts of human beings. This, I think, is quite clear. By reflecting on these past occurrences, we can see that if we want to have a better and happier future, now is the time to examine the mindset of our present generation and to reflect on the way of life that it may bring about in the future.”
- His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, “Loving the Enemy”
What are we doing here?
Now there’s a question for you to ponder. Or perhaps more to the point, ‘Why are we here and why are we doing what we are doing?’ How many people actually pause to contemplate this question I wonder? And what would happen if everyone did? Would people change? Would the world change? Who knows? People have been asking such questions throughout recorded history but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the world is still in a state of chaos.
So what can we each, personally, do with this question? Well for starters, we can embrace it and open our mind to receiving the answer. One thing we discover immediately when we ask the question is that we are confused. Humanity, it appears, exists in a state of confusion… a state of dichotomy (contradictions). On one hand we are taught that humankind’s fundamental essence is love and compassion but on the other hand, we see quite clearly that humans perpetually scheme and connive to discover ways to dominate, harass, intimidate and kill one another, often over issues that upon reflection seem meaningless.
People treat each other badly because they view others as separate and less important than themselves. That kind of perspective allows us to ‘dehumanize’ others and enables us to consider ‘them’ a threat (or obstacle) to ‘our own’ security or our ability to fulfill our personal desires. Quite often, the next logical step is to seek ways to eliminate such obstacles. We see this kind of pattern unfolding around us all the time in individual relationships as well as in the collective consciousness and behavior of social groups (tribes and countries).
How can we, as compassionate, aware individuals remedy the situation?
The longest journey begins with a single step. When we reach out to those around us in compassion we are motivated by the perspective that all beings are extensions of our selves instead of obstacles to overcome. When we project that attitude, those we encounter may sense we represent no threat and it may open a space for f positive dialogue.
The next step is to identify areas of agreement instead of focusing on areas of disagreement. We live in a very diverse human community with countless cultures but all human beings share a desire for security, shelter, food, and to be treated with respect and dignity. If we build bridges in those basic areas, the remaining areas where we differ become less critical.
As we build those bridges we need to keep in mind that any time we want life to be different than it is we risk being caught up in impatience. When we become impatient we lose our sense of humor and blame, despair and self-centeredness may arise. This makes it more difficult to communicate effectively so we must be aware of these feelings as they surface and extinguish them with patience, serenity and calm and accept that all beings are imperfect. If we do this, we will experience less frustration because our expectations are lower.
These approaches open doors to communication that may otherwise remain closed. Of course we must recognize that we will encounter individuals who harbor no desire to open any doors at all. Such individuals present the biggest challenges but this does not mean that our plan should be to simply turn and walk away. Preparation (anticipation with creative commitment to action) is crucial. For such individuals we need to develop an attitude and a plan of action that involves a even greater conscious commitment to extending our efforts to reach out and build bridges.
Sometimes that plan may involve passive resistance; sometimes it may mean unceasing efforts to establish dialogue. Sometimes it may require us to lay down clear boundaries and consequences and to express those boundaries and consequences openly before the watchful eyes of the world.
This is where OHIB (Our Humanity in the Balance) comes in; deploying committed, compassionate volunteers armed with vision and focus in areas of despair like Darfur where compassion has dried up. Every disaster contains opportunities for growth, change and loving our neighbor or our enemy. In the end, loving our neighbor as our self means understanding our neighbor as we understand our self. The only way to do this is by developing the intention and awareness to reach out and walk in the shoes of everyone we meet. When we do that well, we find our ‘self’ looking back at us through their eyes. This is not easy of course, but it is crucial, for when we see ‘us’ through ‘their’ eyes, we discover further ways we can fine-tune our approach to increase positive dialogue and find common ground that will reduce fear, frustration and hate.
And it all begins with that single step of intention to confront hate with compassion.