When we lived in tribes and villages, we were constantly connected. The whole was only as strong as each member. If one of us had food, we all had food. If one of us had a sick child, we all had a sick child. We lived off the earth, we read the stars, we respected the planet, and all the living creatures on it, but we don’t live that way anymore. We buy food in boxes. We live in boxes, and we drive in boxes with wheels, and we go sit in a box and stare at a box all day, and then we go home at night and stare at another one. We like our information in small chunks. We want instant gratification. We’re incredibly quick to create an “us” and a “them.” We’ve really separated ourselves from each other, and I believe this is why so many people are so unhappy. Do you know how many dating sites there are out there? I don’t, but I know there are a lot because somewhere, deep down we understand that happiness is tied to connection and love. It’s just that we go about finding it in such absurd ways. Maybe you’ll find it romantically, but in the meantime, it’s available every time you interact with anyone.
We think about our surroundings as they pertain to us. We get annoyed when it rains as if it’s a personal inconvenience, when we ought to be celebrating. We treat our animals horribly, except for the ones we think are cute. We cut down trees to erect more buildings. We think of the tree in our yard as ours, but it isn’t, not unless we planted it, and even then it isn’t ours. It belongs to the earth and the sun, and it provides oxygen for all, but we’ve lost the thread of connection. Your kid is sick? How awful. Let me distract myself so I don’t have to think about how horrendous that must be, or how it could happen to my kid, too. Some journalists were beheaded? That’s heartbreaking, but let me go to rage and indignation right away because I don’t know how to process the pain of that. I don’t want to sit with that and breathe that in, and think about those two mothers, those two families who are suffering and grieving and trying not to think about their children’s last moments. It’s so hard to lean into that, isn’t it? It’s messy and awful and it feels absolutely devastating, but that’s what we need to do. We need to think about all the people everywhere who are suffering as a result of violence, because regardless of race or gender or religion or culture, they are part of our tribe.
And obviously, there are grieving mothers and fathers all over the world right now. Grieving sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. Blame and rage aren’t going to help us. You know the saying, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting”? We need to try something else, and my suggestion would be that we attempt to understand and tolerate each other more, and let me be clear. There are some things that are incomprehensible. There are some people with whom conversation is impossible, because they’ve built walls against anything rational. They’ve created constructs to justify reprehensible actions. I’m just suggesting that wherever possible, we open the door toward more communication. If the majority of us are working together to solve our problems, it’ll be a lot easier to handle small groups of people who’ve lost their minds and closed their hearts, but when division is everywhere, our energy is scattered, and then we’re really in trouble.
The more we create an “us” and a “them”, the more we set the stage for division, rage, bitterness and misunderstanding. I’m sure we can all look to certain parts of the world and recognize how this thinking plays out. People suffer and people die. I posted about how sick I felt after I heard about Steven Sotloff the other day, and someone asked me why I felt sick. If it’s happening to one of our sons, it’s happening to all of our sons. This isn’t a political issue, it’s a human issue, and we need to care; to sit up and take notice and offer our empathy, because we were built for that. If you don’t know what I mean, check out “mirror neurons”. It’s natural for us to care, to extend ourselves, to reach out, but we’ve cut ourselves off.
The village doesn’t gather for dinner every night. We’ve built in so few opportunities for community. You have to seek it out. You won’t find it on line at Starbucks, because everyone’s looking at their phones. One of the reasons communities spring up over social media is that we’re all desperate to know we aren’t in this thing alone. It’s not like it’s an easy gig, but it’s so comforting when we come together and understand we’re so much more alike than we are different. Hatred is taught. Love is natural to us. The more we remind ourselves of that, the faster we change the world around us.
It occurred to me right away that the best way we can practice tolerance is by starting with those people who challenge us the very most. Those people in our lives who are suffering from personality disorders, or a lack of empathy, or the effects of their own trauma or abusive history, because those people are so hard to understand, aren’t they? Don’t we think to ourselves, “How could someone do that? I could never do that.” But maybe you could if you’d lived the life they have. We just can’t know what another person is carrying, what fears or bitterness or rage they’re harboring, what abuse or neglect they’ve endured. It takes a lot to make a person cold and hard and capable of creating knifing heartache. That doesn’t just happen overnight. I believe if we can try to find compassion for those people in our lives who trigger us to our very marrow, then we have a shot at extending compassion to strangers whose actions seem completely foreign to us. I’m not saying you need to reach out to someone who’s incapable of doing anything but lie to your face and stab you in the back. Why set yourself up for more of that?
I’m just saying, try to imagine what life must be like for people who behave with no thought of how their actions are affecting those around them. Or worse, how life must be for a person who’s intentionally and unapologetically hurting other people. That cannot be a peaceful way to move through life, filled with hatred and a thirst for vengeance. Obviously, if someone is hurting us, we do everything in our power to remove ourselves from their reach. But from a safe distance, perhaps we can see that meeting hatred with hatred won’t work. We can forcefully and fully meet hatred with love. We can take the power of that love and defend ourselves against bitterness and rage, because that stuff will erode any sense of hope we have. We can make ourselves safe, but we won’t get there by creating more division. What we need is more connection. We spread around us what we have within us. Our only power lies in our commitment to make the worlds within ourselves more loving and peaceful and compassionate, because that’s the stuff we need to be spreading. In the meantime, if it feels right, maybe we can all think together, “May all beings be free from suffering.”
Sending you so much love,