“For hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal.” Buddha, The Dhammapada
Easy to say. Hard to do. Much easier is the white-hot rush, the sweet liquor of in-group belonging, the safety and security of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with others who share my convictions – or, by their conviction, can shape my own through this elemental need to join the pack. There is nothing sweeter than being taken into the fold, to be told I am right, to be groomed and stroked and seduced by fellowship. Especially in the name of righteousness.
Pity the poor fool whose tribe is dismantled by popular opinion. Where are we to go, when deeply held doctrines are attacked by the media, mocked on Facebook, denounced at the dinner table by those who just don’t understand? When fashion takes a left turn, and the values we've clothed ourselves in suddenly become as laughable as the Emperor's new clothes? When leaders take power who oppose and legislate against all we’ve held dear? When braver or more vocal compatriots are publicly shamed, thrown into prison, stripped of their rights, even murdered? The simplest solution is to find a new in-group and suit up. That is, if in-group belonging is more important than using our own noggins to scratch out an independent truth and find a way to live it.
Where to go for this truth? Hard to say. There’s literature; through the ages, wars have been fought on the page by some of the world’s finest minds, both pro and con, on any issue you might care to name. To champion one brilliant voice, though, the other must be discounted. History? Well, we know it is written by the victors; books are burned and statues toppled in every successful coup. Ideally, the landscape must be cleared by the conquerors of any evidence that points to alternative thought. Religion? Well this too is decided by the victors, is it not? Spoon-fed to unformed minds, a thicket of contradictions that belie claims of transcendence - Thor, Odin and Zeus might have a thing or two to say about that. Art? Perhaps – artists have always been heralds of inner truth and political change – but art is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? That child’s drawing on the refrigerator is more beautiful by far than revolutionary pieces sold for millions, right? If it’s my child, that is. Science? This is perhaps our best bet – but whose data are we to trust, when private or public interests fund the research, skew the findings, and pay to promote the results?
The writing is on the wall, if anyone cares to read it – the graffiti of published knowledge, opinion, and speculation litters the virtual landscape, while I stare into my phone trying to discern it’s value - to find out where I stand, with whom I belong. Once I decide, once I've gained my badge of entry, I will stand here.You can stand over there – way over there - at least until I and my cohort can gather enough strength to take you down. By any and all means necessary, we the righteous must take full ownership and control. What was once yours must become mine, so that I can be sure of my footing, so I can safeguard my identity, so that I can sleep comfortably in the knowledge that I belong.
Yours and mine. Two words, opposite but not equal, joined by a third that seeks to bridge the difference. My experience is this – and yours is that. If I can only leap over the divide, perhaps a third word could be used – ours.
This is our world. Racked by discord. Advertised on placards, headlines and internet memes. Debated by pundits seeking acolytes. Seduced by politicians, religious leaders and advertisers. Burning, beaten, murdered, looted, diseased, choking with fumes that fuel the whole mess. At the very sight, I recoil.
To find my tribe, perhaps I must look not outward, but inward. To find my sisters and brothers, my neighbors, my fellow humans, maybe the only source I can truly trust is myself. To look inside and see incontrovertible evidence of where, when and why I have taken the easy road to separate myself from you – so that I can stand with them. To see the times when I focused on the differences between us, instead of the similarities. The times I closed myself off from your truth. To see what I did to make you hate me – and why I did it.
In doing so, I can finally diffuse the pain I suffered when the fault so clearly lay with you. I can see how you made that terrible choice to hurt me for the same reasons I lashed out myself. I can see that you wanted to be right, as I wanted to be right. I can see you – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And you are me. All of you.