Christchurch - finding a way forward…
The events of this past week have been devastating to us all and cannot be condemned strongly enough. Given that we, as an organisation exist to promote tolerance and inclusion, we wanted to share some of our thoughts about the Christchurch attack. Not so much about the events that occurred, but really on the implications for each of us as we reflect on our own individual perspectives.
The shocking and heart wrenching events provoked an outpouring of outrage and condemnation, but also prompted an outpouring of love and support from communities everywhere. It also raises questions about our individual responsibilities as members of an increasingly diverse society.
We believe that what we’ve seen in this attack are the full-blown fruits of a tree of ‘hatred’, that started its life as a small seed of ‘division’. It is tempting to believe that the people who perpetrated these crimes are essentially evil and that those of us who did not, are essentially good. But if we are truly honest and we examine ourselves, we must acknowledge that the seeds of division and hatred lie within our own hearts too and if left unchecked, create at best discord and tension and at worst, crimes driven by hate and fear.
Let us explain: In the course of our work, we have experienced that people everywhere strongly pursue their unique identity - one that defines them and helps them to differentiate themselves from others. This is the work of our ego - the part of us that emphasises our ‘’otherness’’ (ways in which we are different to everyone else). In service of this goal, we prompted to identify those who are “like us”, so we can belong somewhere, and those who are ‘’not like us’’, so we can make ourselves safe (because difference is scary). This is a natural part of our evolution and part of being human.
The problem occurs when the pursuit of our point of difference, overshadows the balancing perspective that, whilst we are different and unique from others, we are also ONE in our humanity. When we forget that the things that bind us together are far greater than the things which divide us, we open ourselves up to flawed thinking. When this happens, our instinct can be to interpret any differences we are exposed to, as somehow wrong, threatening, or dangerous.
The logical progression is something like this:
I see you as different
Because you are different, I don’t understand you
Because I don’t understand you, you are a potential threat to me
Because you are a potential threat, I believe you are dangerous
Because you are dangerous, I am justified in attacking you
We would love to say that the above progression represents the mind of the fanatic, but in our experience, this is not so. To one extent or another, we are all at the mercy of our primitive brain which prompts this sort of thinking.
Albert Einstein put it so well, when he wrote:
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
We all need to reflect on this and other tragic crimes against humanity and think about how we become the change we want to see. Outrage and grief are the right responses, but let’s not stop there. Let’s go beyond that, to a deeper level of awareness into our own thinking and behaviours. Are we part of the problem or part of the solution? What do we make difference mean, and how does that make us act towards our fellow man?
It’s a matter of degree, not substance. It’s too easy for us to project our complicity onto others and say – They are guilty, and we are not! We all share responsibility for the smallest act of division, hostility, aggression, or undervaluing of others and conversely the smallest acts of kindness and inclusion. Our response must be to take to heart Einstein’s appeal to ‘’widen our circle of compassion’’, see the humanity in others and act from love. It is how we collectively bring healing from this tragedy. It is the only way.