This may end up being an unpopular view, but I’ve been grappling with this inquiry for a week now and decided to just let it out. Would love to hear others’ thoughts on this…
At the Awaken Chicago conference a few months ago, Pema Chödron spoke on anger. She mentioned an ancient Buddhist text that referred to our human tendency to try to fight against the issues “out there” (i.e. in the world outside of us) in order to resolve our anger. This text concluded that the person who does that ends up perpetually angry and even more frequently frustrated because there will always be issues “out there” to make us angry. In the end, the only way to truly resolve our issues (and to effectively work towards solving the issues “out there”) is to also work with those feelings within ourselves.
In light of this teaching, I’ve been thinking about all the recent horrific events which, through the vehicle of technology, have been brought to our awareness. Events fueled by the prejudice that leads to fear and hatred, and then to violence and injustice. I’ve been thinking about how the seeds of that hatred live inside every human being. Each of us has that seed in us, and it is the very rare human who has not watered that seed in any way. We are animals, and studies have shown that fear or avoidance of “other” is in fact an inherent human tendency just as it is for all members of the animal kingdom. We have the benefit/liability of a brain that perceives “other” even in members of our own species.
Of course it is unconscionable to harm innocent others because of that perceived difference. Of course it is. And of course it is important to quickly and decisively act to restore justice when injustice rears its head. And still there is the question of how do we heal that propensity for prejudice & discrimination within our collective? When actions are performed out of fear, anger, prejudice and hatred, do we heal that tendency in our collective by allowing it free reign within ourselves?
Pema spoke of that ancient text which suggested that the only way to heal is if we are each able to hold our anger “in the cradle of loving kindness.” I interpret that to mean that I have to recognize & acknowledge my own feelings of anger, prejudice and hatred with compassion even as I seek to change what is happening in the collective. Let’s not forget that each of us as individuals make up the collective. Humanity is us, not “us” & “them.” What is the use of me insisting that white people, rich people, police, the 1%, etc should not act out of prejudice, hatred, greed and anger if I meet their behavior with, and indeed cultivate the very same tendencies? If I refuse to acknowledge those same tendencies (even if lesser in degree) in myself, why should I expect anyone else to? Isn’t the popular wisdom that you can’t solve a problem with the same energy that created it? Not to mention the damage I do to my mental and physical health by perpetuating that bitterness, anger and hatred.
There is appropriate aggression, and then there is getting “caught up.” The media likes for us to be caught up. It’s a ratings booster. It’s true the media is helping to uncover the nastiness that needs to be brought into the light of day so that it can be transformed. And yet, when we are so caught up that we take individual behaviors and generalize those to entire groups, to the point where innocent members of those groups become targets, are we changing the propensity for prejudice-fueled injustice in the collective? Or are we perpetuating it?