Seeing Through the Eyes of 'The Other'

Dear K__ and M______;

I want to thank both of you for taking the time to transmit your feelings about my writing, and for doing so in a centered, heart-felt way.  

My remarks were not intended to offend.  I’m getting a lot of email from people who think that I’m not a US citizen and telling me to “go home” – and worse.  Trying times brings out the best and the worst in us.

I have friends who were caught up in the attack on NYC; they are okay.  I have a friend who works for the Pentagon, who has not yet been heard from. I say this to let you know that I don’t write as some dispassionate observer, but from the point of view of someone who knows and shares the grief, pain and suffering.  I’ve shed a lot of tears over the past few days…[Since this writing, I regained contact with my friend.]

When we are emotional, it’s hard to hear what someone has to say.  I am very sorry that you misconstrued my comments; that you thought I said the NYC victims “deserved” their fates.  The attack in NYC was an atrocity.  NO ONE “DESERVES” AN ATROCITY.  

I mentioned in my book that, decades ago, in high school, some of us would throw our coats over the heads of our fellow students and beat them into unconsciousness, or sometimes stab them.  No one under my coat “deserved” to be there.  

However, it is too simplistic to simply call me (the former “me”) a “crazy, cowardly fanatic”, and then try to stop my (former) behavior with a greater degree of violence.  All I’m saying to you is that it wouldn’t work; it would just create a greater monster.  

Violence never, ever works.  People ask me why I have made a personal pledge of nonviolence.  I tell them two reasons:  first, I think that is necessary if one is going to practice one’s spiritual faith; two, I tried the violence route and it didn’t work.

M________ said:

“to exhibit such an utter and inhuman lack of empathy, is a
rubicon that forever separates these people from me.”

Forever?  There is no room in your heart for forgiveness?  Redemption?  Understanding?  Who lacks empathy?  Who is the monster?

In times of extreme stress and suffering, we can turn to our anger or turn to our deepest values.  Whatever your faith (or, like me, you practice ALL of the religious traditions), forgiveness, understanding and redemption is at its core.  We have the life examples of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and countless others – all who consistently taught that anyone and everyone is redeemable, all the way up to the moment of their deaths.  Yes, even bin Laden and the Taliban can change.

A person wrapped in pain wants to hurt back; to hurt “Them”.  In the minds of those who seek vengeance, there’s no difference between military and civilian targets (as America itself practiced by dropping atomic bombs on two civilian cities, when there were plenty of military targets available.  Someone pointed out that the collapse of the WTC Towers looked like inverted mushroom clouds.) 

M_______, they didn’t choose the WTC Towers IGNORING that they were full of people; they did it BECAUSE they were full of people.  They were seeking vengeance.  Their pain caused them to want to inflict maximum pain on us – which they did.  Now, in our pain, we want to strike THEM back, bloody THEIR nose, make THEM “pay” for their “crime”.  This will simply recruit more angry young men to their side.  Violence begets violence.  And, that violence is not visited upon the perpetrator, but upon us all.  

Someone has to stop the cycle.  

K_____ said:

“I would argue that in fact, evil does exist as an objective force in the
world. And that the perpetrators of the  events of September 11 were,
morally indefensible, morally inexcusable and (from an objective view
point) evil.”

K_____, I fully agree that their behavior was morally indefensible and inexcusable.  However, I do not think that God created anyone “evil”, and that, if I take the time to see the world through their eyes, I can gain the leverage to transform their behavior, the way that I myself was transformed.  I believe that the ONLY way to stop them is to transform them.  Terrorism is like the Hydra of ancient mythology – strike one head and others rise to take its place.

The Moral High Ground:
In my boss’ offices in Sri Lanka, there is a picture on one of the walls of a beautiful little eight-year-old girl, with a big, bright smile on her face.  She is on crutches; her right leg and hip was blown off by a landmine.  An American landmine.  

My office is down the walkway from a woman who walks with a prosthesis, her leg having been blown off, also.  Because she walks slow, most people pass her.  I don’t; I always match her pace, to give myself a moment to realize exactly why I’m in Sri Lanka – to make sure there are no more limping women and children on crutches.  This is one of my daily experiences of compassion.

People around the world ask me why “you Americans” (pointing at me) sell landmines to any government with money, why we refuse to sign the treaty banning landmines, why we won’t sign the treaty banning child soldiers, why we are the biggest arms merchants in the world (selling more than every other country COMBINED.)  Why are we so willing to cause suffering for profit?  Why are we willing to spread violence around the world?

In short, they think we are “morally indefensible, morally inexcusable and (from an objective viewpoint) evil.”

What am I supposed to say to them?  That woman thinks that YOU are evil (and me).  She thinks that YOU took her leg from her, an unarmed civilian just trying to get home from work one day.  She thinks that YOU (and me) are so interested in making money, they are willing to cause untold suffering in the world.  

What I tell them:

· There is a difference between the American government and the American people.
· Not all Americans believe in violence; even the ones who do are misguided, not evil.
· Many Americans are too caught up in our own spiritual emptiness to see the pain and suffering that we may be causing in other parts of the world. 
· I am deeply sorry for the losses you suffered, and I am deeply committed to seeing that it does not ever happen again, to anyone.
· Although you are in pain, although you have suffered an atrocity, the answer is not to cause more pain; the answer is inclusivity (seeing that we are all linked), not exclusivity (seeing that we are all separate).

The only way we can teach these lessons is to learn them, first.

I look forward to your responses.




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