Saturday, October 29, 2011

Does might make right?

The part of us that looks beyond immediate crisis has one answer and the part of us which takes over moment-by-moment has a different one. There is hypocracy in this divide which seems to go by without recognition. It is somewhat easier to see this split in others than in ourselves. The oil that greases the machinery of our culture, money says “in God we trust” but sadly a significant portion of that oil is devoted to buying tools of domination and this split shows up everywhere in our culture.

It shows up in Presidential debates when candidates get high marks for aggressive behavior. It shows up amidst audience cat-calls of “terrorist” and “kill him.” It shows up in comments of the pundits when they applaud one side with “taking the fight to the enemy.” It is bizarre for the “United” States to exhibit such behavior and maintain an indefeasible posture of unity. The proof of our unity (or not) doesn’t lie in campaign slogans and sound bites but rather in how we treat one another. It is telling that the candidates say one thing from a distance and another face to face. The disparity between this message split creates and inflames divisiveness amongst people who are already divided into hunkered down bastions of self-righteousness.

When we attack another—whether that other is a candidate, our close associates or other nations—we invite retaliation and get stroked for our “might makes right” behavior. It is very troubling that we have grown into a nation of divisive aggressors who seem to think that we should wear such behavior as a badge of honor.

We know the justification for this divide. It started when we were children— “He started it. It’s not my fault.” And that justification then becomes, “Let me hit him first, before he hits me.” This entire give and take is flawed and is rooted in the mistaken idea that we are all separate, individual selves who, out of perceived necessity band together into tribes and packs of conformed aggression. Yes we are different. We look different. We think differently and we hold opposing view points, opinions and beliefs. And at a deeper level...the level not seen...we are one.

When we go to war because of our differences, without accepting our common humanity, we end up not only destroying others but ourselves as well. A long time ago someone very wise said, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” We didn’t take that counsel to heart then and seem incapable of doing so now. Shantideva, an 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar, took a different view. He said, “When I act for the sake of others, No amazement or conceit arises. Just like feeding myself, I hope for nothing in return.” This view, of course was offered not in singular acknowledgment of our differences but also in recognition of our sameness. We cant help but wonder if perhaps our founding fathers of “A more Perfect Union” had Shantidevas view in mind instead of the rancor we have settled upon.
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