I find it amazing that, in a civilized society, it would be necessary to write this post. Although we may at one time have been a civilized society, we have slipped off the mark in an orgy of selfishness that is the result of a profound distortion and perversion of rugged individualism.
The first time I wrote this post, about four hours before the second time, it was very different that the post you are about to read. Then I read something from Pema Chodron that made me see that I was way off base. I was going to tell you how we could stop people from hurting other people and stop the ignorance that caused hate. Those are good and noble goals I still endorse, but my thinking was all wrong.
Have you ever been forced to do something? As children we all were, or at the very least we were forced to not do something we wanted to do. How did you respond? You probably complied at the time, and then once whoever told you not to do the thing wasn’t looking you did it anyway. When I was young I heard Richard Prior tell a story about his uncle telling him, “Don’t ever eat a pussy, boy.” Richard admitted that as a result of that instruction he couldn’t wait to do precisely that! The truth is when I heard the story as a young teenager, I couldn’t wait to do the same thing – once I figured out what it was!
Can you see the irony in that when we want someone to stop doing something that hurts people our first instinct is to force them to stop? And can you see from your own experience just how ineffective that strategy is? Most of us have probably seen someone protesting war with an angry expression on their face. While we might not be able to articulate right away why that leaves us feeling uncomfortable, the fact is we are uncomfortable with the incongruence between a person’s behavior and their message. A parishioner of mine used to say, “that’s like screwing for chastity!”
If we want to change wht we see as negative behavior, in ourselves or in others, we need to understand why the behavior occurs. Maybe the person feels misunderstood, or ignored, or cheated, or that they have been the victim of injustice. Negative behavior and belief almost always originates because the actor feels hurt. The precise cause isn’t all that important when formulating a response.
I always shake my head when I hear people who have expressed admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or the Pope, or any of the great spiritual teachers turn around and advocate violent intervention or forcibly restraining people who do things with which they don’t agree. I’m not talking about someone who poses an immanent threat to the physical well being of another, they do need to be restrained. I’m talking about Republicans, or Democrats, or Protestants, or Catholics, or Chicago Bears fans, all of whom might be seen to have taken on an unreasonable belief that is detrimental to others, or in the case of Bears fans to themselves. I’m talking also about antisemites, bigots, racists, NRA members, abortion protesters, and any number of objectionable characters who act out in ways we find unacceptible. If you want to lock these people up or force them to do as you wish, you don’t really respect the spiritual leaders you claim to respect. You haven’t listened to them.
The only thing that heals emotional pain is love and acceptance. The only way I can heal you is to heal myself, too. We need to learn to avoid knee jerk reactions, to avoid criticizing the person of the other even when I disagree with their behavior, and to always look for way to reconcile and make the other person whole again. As the great Hindu master Neem Karoli Baba taught, never put anyone out of your heart. This take a tremendous amount of practice and patience. We better start right now!