Martin Luther King Day was this week and on the major network talk shows, the actors from the movie Selma spoke about the significance of the film. They expressed how proud and honoured they were to be a part of something that would remind and teach people about Dr. King and how he affected change in America. A common reference in the talk show interviews with the actors was the irony and the timely release of the film in light of the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I wonder what Dr. King would say about America if he was alive today? What would he say about the world? We walk alongside each other in the streets, we work side by side but the racism, discrimination and hatred is still there lying just under our skin, seeping out of our pores and tainting society because mankind has never been truly accepting of difference. We pretend to like all things unique but somewhere inside us we don’t. The majority of us prefer to be the same and really don’t like to draw attention to ourselves. We can deny it but to this day we still live our lives by archaic guidelines.
In my quest to move forward in 2015 with love, I find myself wondering how human beings can change the current of violence and hatred we are on. I’m not saying the world is all doom and gloom or overrun with bad people – it isn’t, but we know there are a lot of things we need to permanently change for the better. We also know that we have many alternatives to unkindness, hatred and violence that we just don’t choose to put into effect.
We live in a time when watching the effect of terror on the world is a regular occurrence. Our living room has become a window to a world where hatred and violence unfortunately are commonplace. Those of us able to recall September 11, remember sitting in front of the television speechless and tearful as what looked like an accident was in reality the biggest act of terror of our time. We watched live coverage of the towers as they burned, tiny fragments falling from them – tiny fragments that we quickly realized were people jumping to their death as they tried to escape the fire. 9-11 was a day of triumph for an evil few and a great tragedy for the rest of the world. We were afraid; there was great anguish. We shed tears of sorrow and despair over lives lost and tears of joy whenever a survivor was rescued. At certain points throughout that day and the days that followed we felt hopeless, discouraged, angry and disappointed in mankind but we also saw that this act of terror made the majority of us (the good people of this world) better. We dug deep into ourselves and found our compassion. We knew how to be kind again and we acted out of love. On the news we saw one colour as soot and ash covered hands reached out and grabbed others and pulled them them to safety, drew them into secure and comforting hugs and tended to their wounds. This terrible, unfortunate and evil historic event gave way to the incredible strength and inherent goodness of the human spirit and many remarked that we would be forever changed.
Over time, structures were repaired and rebuilt and monuments were erected lest we forget and ever so subtly we returned to the rhythm of modern life – keeping our heads down, working the job, pushing through the stress, minding our own business and balancing everything in our lives just to get to the next thing, the next hour, the next moment, the next day, month and year. But the terror has not stopped and we are truly afraid. We are hyper-observant when we travel and whatever our colour we sometimes are suspicious of brown faces and non-western religious attire. We can say that we stand up to terror by not backing down or changing the way we live our lives. We can say we will continue to travel wherever we want, however we want, but deep down we are fearful and mistrusting. In retaliation to terror some of us have become comfortably critical of the religious rites of others and have no problem ridiculing a person’s faith. And while it is a person’s democratic right to speak freely and express their opinion, is it wise to provoke violence?
A dear friend, posted a beautiful and insightful quote on her timeline from Deepak Chopra that says,
“Speech can cause humiliation and incite violence or heal. Freedom of speech can be a path to enlightenment, or a road to death and destruction. The enlightened purpose of speech in wisdom traditions is to create bliss, joy, happiness, peace and healing in the listener. If you pause before speaking and ask: Is it necessary? Is it useful? Is it kind? [Then] you are wisely using the privilege of freedom of speech”.
All religions are ridiculed one time or another without violent retaliation. Charlie Hebdo is notorious for their political and religious satire and while what they published was deemed offensive by the terrorists who sought revenge, they did not deserve the attack on their facility in 2011 and no one deserved to lose their lives in the recent attack this month. No one who is truly religious will act violently in the name of their faith. No religion urges people to kill in the name of their God. I watch the news with my hand pressed to my lips far too many times as I see the result of cruel acts of the ruthless on the innocent but what concerns me is that I am not experiencing the shock and grief of 9-11. I watched the news reports on the cowardly and brutal slayings of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa last October. I watched the coverage of the Sydney Cafe Siege in Australia, the Peshawar School attacks in Pakistan and the terror attacks in Paris and I cannot recall a time when I did not see footage of the unending violence in the Middle East or civil war in Africa. As I wrote this this week, there was breaking news that ISIS had taken two Japanese men hostage and are demanding an exorbitant amount of money for their release to the tune of $200 million dollars. When will the terror and hatred stop? I have come to a point in my life where it seems I almost expect to see this horror and more than ever I find myself wondering what good people can do to eradicate evil. Could our world be saved if we all pursued balance amid the chaos that is terrorism? Could we perhaps be more mindful of what we say out loud? As Chopra says, if what we say is not useful or kind should we say it? Should we offend and provoke and put people’s lives at risk? And on the flip side, how dare we decide that killing in the name of any God is justified? Since when do mere mortals get to decide that any God promotes violence over peace?
Standing up to terror by going on with our lives and pretending to shun fear is a valid and valiant way to counteract it but it isn’t enough. Saying and doing whatever we want whenever we want is our democratic right but perhaps we need to think about how far is too far. People are dying and I am not sure it will end if we don’t find other ways to stop the senseless acts of violence. Free speech is truly the right of humankind but most of us don’t go up to people and out rightly insult them. What is the point of teaching our children to be accepting of all people regardless of their culture, race, religion or creed when we can’t set an example for them?
So what do we do? If the majority of us approach others with kindness and love and turn our back on violence and hatred can we count on those who resort to horrific measures to turn their back on evil and work to create a balance among all people and nations so that we can live in peace among each other in spite of our differences?
In conclusion, I cannot come to a conclusion. This topic has been on my mind for a couple months and I have been working on writing my thoughts on it for a week. I’m afraid in trying to raise points about embracing peace and putting it into practice, I have discovered that we may not be able to change the world even if the majority of us puts forth our efforts. Maybe evil carried out by a minority is stronger than all the love and good intentions of many. Maybe (and I am afraid this statement might be true) we may never find peace and we may never be able to create a balance among mankind because it only takes just a little bit of evil to tip the scale. But in the small space I occupy on the planet, I will try to move forward everyday with love. I will teach my children the value of peace, love and kindness and I will continue to hope that some day we humans will figure out that underneath the surface, under our skin we are all the same and we need the same things to survive.