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A Few Paltry Words on Responding to Violence

A Few Paltry Words on Responding to Violence

Each line of writing I type, each thought I have, each suggestion I think of making…they are all so small, so not enough.

Part of me wants to say that in the wake of terroristic violence (and I have a broad definition of “terroristic,”) all we can do is love one another. But who counts as “one another”? Whom do we love? Whom can we bring ourselves to love?

Part of me wants to demand of myself and those around me that we examine our inclinations to mourn with Paris, and yet let Baghdad, Beirut, Nairobi, and Syria just sort fly below our pain threshold. Violence in those brown countries? Well, that’s where it happens in the world. It’s dangerous there.

And so in demanding that we examine ourselves, I want to demand that we, especially whites living in the US, look at, just look at the way race plays into our responses to all this violence. To theaters and schools shot up by whites in the US. To a theater full of people of multiple races and religions, attacked by Muslims of color in France. To Black people in the US of all genders and ages victimized by state-sanctioned violence at the hands of police officers. Hundreds of thousands—hear me—hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced or killed.

Or killing.

How do we respond to all this? How can we?

There are layers, of course. Layers and layers.

There are political layers and probably military ones. There are layers of rebuilding and, please God, of national generosity.

There are layers of gratitude and forgiveness—giving one, asking the other, hoping for one and offering the other.

Jiddu KrishnamurtiJiddu Krishnamurti, the 20th-century teacher, wrote

“We eventually learn that spirituality is not about leaving life’s problems behind, but about continually confronting them with honesty and courage. It is about ending our feeling of separation from others by healing our relationships with parents, co-workers, and friends. It is about bringing heightened awareness and compassion to our family life, careers, and community service.”

There is a way in which we must act in our own spheres.


But what are our spheres? Where is my bailiwick?

Is it the health and well-being of my watershed? Is it the sacred trust of raising children to be engaged citizens in whatever ways they are able?

Is it learning about Native concerns and asking how I can help?

Is it reaching across race and class to build relationships? Is it being brave enough to share our own experience, even when that experience—as in my case with whiteness—has brought us ignorance and supremacy?

I do not think we “figure out” our bailiwicks. I think it is a matter of discerning, open hearts. It is in allowing ourselves to be changed by what we learn.

Allowing ourselves to be changed by what we learn.

We may have learned a lot this week. We may have been touched in unexpected ways, and our hearts may be breaking open.

Or shutting down.

The challenge of every day in this violent, terrifying world is not to shut down—at least not permanently. Yes, do what we need to do to function.

But to allow our hearts to be open, soft, not hardened like Pharoah’s. Not hearts ruled by imperialism, consumerism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy. Not those hearts.

As Krishnamurti reminds us, it is to end the sense of separation that we have from others. We are. Not. Separated. From. Anyone. Else. Our Seventh Principle reminds us, and life, if we are awake to it, reminds us. We are connected to all things. And remembering that, remembering it through love, that is the only place I can land.

In the end, and oh this feels like so not enough, we must allow ourselves to be changed by love, even when we are motivated by anger, rage even. In the end, it is allowing ourselves to be changed by the Metta Meditation, the concentric circles of relationship to whom we offer lovingkindness. To ourselves, to those we love, those we know, those we know and despise, those we do not know and yet we hate them…..

We offer them all lovingkindness, first and over and over in meditation, allowing our hearts to be changed. And then we find ourselves changing. Changing, Opening. Softening.

And we can still say NO. Violence, killing, making refugees of whole nations is wrong. And we can also bring compassion to the world. Compassion which is what the world needs more.

In the end, I think that is all that will be enough. It is not all enough on its own, but love is the only thing that has a change.

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