Stones No More, Essay on Peace, I Search for Answers as I Remember History
by Melissa Martin 12/04/2011 / World Affairs
Unforgiveness dwells in the pages of history and in our memories. Brain cells cleave tightly to events of humiliation, disrespect, embarrassment, shame, and "losing face." Grudges grow and fester into cancerous sores of loathing; poisoning the spirit; polluting the soul; sickening the body. Like a rancher's branding iron, hurts are seared into our psyche. Germs of revenge multiply and taint our essence. Weeds of resentment strangulate consciences. Bitter juices flow through the circulatory system of civilization contaminating our children and their children and so on and so on. The feet of retaliation runs rampant. "I don't get mad-I get even" is a mantra of disgruntled folk.
Our youth kill each other because of perceived facial or body expressions of disrespect. Punching with your fists "saves face" in the halls of our schools and paths of our playgrounds; turning the other cheek is for cowards. Emotional pain turns into petrified hatred. Some graduates skip high school reunionstoo many miserable memories of bullying, peer rejection, alienation from clannish clicks, and the trauma of humiliation. Residual fallout from poverty leaves an ugly scar when classmates ostracized you. Being overweight, nerdish, homely, or different caused bullies to heap contempt upon your personhood and it seeped into your core of self-worth. Stripping human beings of dignity brings consequences. My large nose on my small face brought some teasing from classmates. Maybe you were the bully in childhood and adult compassion grabbed hold and you changed. History doesn't change but humans can.
My maternal grandfather and his brother did not speak for decades due to wrongs and unforgiveness until one brother lay dying in a hospital. Death-bed forgiveness visited. Some hurts are embedded so deeply that family members remain estranged for lifetimes.
Divorced parents fight verbal battles in court-custody cases while mortar wounds the young casualties. Spouses fight over child support and health insurance while attorneys pocket fees and overworked child support agencies pass the buck. Spouses and partners kill each other over past hurts, jealousy and infidelity, life insurance policies, power and control issues. Blended families show favoritism with a jaundiced eye within the home. Friction turns into belligerence. An Ashanti proverb states "Ruin of a nation begins in the home of its people."
Workplace tragedies of employees exploding into rampaging killers of coworkers and supervisors shock our senses and threaten our security. Perceived or actual wrongs reply with a firearm. Unfairness in salaries sparks indignation. Nepotism and favoritism causes dissension as well.
Children live by the unwritten rule of fairness and become tattlers when it is violated on the playground, in classrooms, and just about anywhere. "That's not fair. I'm telling!" Cut a candy bar in half and the two pieces better be equal.
Slight a college student and a grievance is filed. Slight a community and voters show up at the polls. A desire for fairness breathes in our bone marrow. Guests line up to be in the spotlight and share woeful tales of mistreatment and unfairness with Jerry, Maury, and Montel. Dr. Phil solves family bickering and backbiting in sixty minute segments. Reality TV tosses a garden variety of people together in one bowl just to make the sparks fly for ratings. Manipulation, lies, sneakiness, competition, gossip, rudeness, and cheating arrive with the suitcases. Territorial adults scrap like toddlers in a sandbox. People throw verbal stones of pettiness, conceit, and self-centeredness. Ouch! Offended TV warriors crawl home to lick their wounds.
Siblings rant and rave about impartiality and what is fair and not fair. "That's not fair. You let her do it so why can't I do it!" Adult siblings fight over the inheritance and proclaim "Mom liked you better!" Verbal weapons fly "You got the antique furniture so I should get the jewelry. You're not playing fair!" Some families keep a tally. The sitcom Frasure is a comedic parody of sibling rivalry between two brothers who are both psychologists. Familial competition does have a downside. Albeit, helping professionals are people first and helpers second. Me-me-me gets stuck on the spin cycle of self-centeredness.
Try to cut-in on a long line of Christmas shoppers and you may get jostled by the crowd. Customers fight over the last prized toy of the holiday season. The sweetest grandma elbows a path to the counter with a Cabbage Patch doll, Beanie Baby, or Play Station. "I was here first. That's not fair!" We believe in taking turns and waiting our turn. How many thousands of times do teachers advise kids to take turns? "Be nice and take turns. How would you like it if he did that to you?"
I too, possess a stanch sense of justice and fairness and react when these elements are violated. When supervisors misuse their power, I'm ready to do battle for coworkers and clients. When leaders misuse their positions of authority, I stand up and protest. However, my mediation and negotiation skills need some polish. Perhaps conflict resolution needs to be taught in Kindergarten and emphasized for the twelve years of schooling and beyond. Humans are emotional species and we demand fairness. Being cheated out of our due evokes fervent feelings. History remembers unfairness.
Does past behavior predict future behavior? Parolees are judged by their histories. Convicted crimes are etched on permanent records and stored for use by future generations; a written account of wrong-doers. History doesn't forget.
Our job resumes reveal our work histories and we are critiqued as suitable or not suitable for an interview. Our histories follow us around. Reputations are determined by our past actions.
Individuals keep score and so do societies and cultures. The USA possesses a tainted history of discrimination and violent inhuman cruelty with slavery and segregation, inequality for women, children's rights, minorities and immigrants, and homosexuals. Religion's hands, stained with legalism, distorted interpretation, and pompous piety, once embraced slavery, spurned unmarried pregnant women, shunned divorcees, and continues to shout demise for gays and lesbians. How do individuals and societies heal from history's injustice? "Gob bless us four and no more," reeks of coldness and egoism; separation and isolation; and lethal ignorance.
The American-Mexican border is a hotbed of controversy concerning illegal aliens. It's also an opportunity for Americans to stereotype and criticize those who are different. Wouldn't you try to cross the river into a land of "milk and honey" if your family was starving due to dire poverty, dismal health care, terminal unemployment or substandard wages? We adorn our Abercrombie and Fitch outfits and drive off to work with attitudes of superiority. We vacation in the elite parts of Mexico, enjoy sun, surf, and authentic food, travel home with our souvenirs, but we take a stand and shout when US tax dollars are used to aid Mexican immigrants. We stereotype South America as the opiate-thug capital and forget about the thousands of law abiding citizens with families who have hopes and dreams just like the rest of us. My wise grandmother used to say, "When you point your finger at someone else, your thumb is pointing right back at you."
Many point to global food scarcity and overpopulation as reasons for self-preservation through any means. As usual, there are two sides to every story. The books by Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet and Food First, Beyond the Myth of Scarcity (www.smallplanetinstitute.org/), dispelled these erroneous notions decades ago when the authors evidenced that food is tied to economics and held hostage to political power. A small percent of the population owns the larger percent of land and vegetation needs soil to grow. Profit monsters stalk the globe and gobble resources to feed their insatiable appetites. I am not proselytizing for communism, socialism, or redistribution of wealth. I am advocating for universal human rights, justice, fairness, and an end to slavery and servitude. I am advocating for industrialized and developed nations to share knowledge, tools, research, and wherewithal with underdeveloped countries. Not one of the six billion people on our planet should have to die of starvation, fetid drinking water, lack of shelter, or treatable diseases. We need to pay attention to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Fear of famine, oppression, and torture keeps people in survival mode. Lack of medical care for physical and mental illnesses promotes apathy and hopelessness. Experiencing the death of your own children due to famine can promote polar emotions of helplessness or rage. Starving children in a world of plenty is a dehumanizing catastrophe compared with empires of oil, gold, and diamonds.
The USA has been accused of throwing stones at other nations while disregarding its' own history of human rights violations. The acidic age of McCarthyism tainted democracy and liberty by demonizing communists. Individuals were labeled into categories of good or evil based on political views. Commander-in Chief, a current TV drama about a female president, in one episode depicted the wife of the Soviet Union's czar diplomatically reminding Madame President about our plight with slavery, the civil rights movement, equal rights for women and the slow process and progress of social change.
Blame is assigned to national and international battles depending on the author of the history book. Skewed opinions parade as facts. Each side has their own story of injustice, unfairness, hurts and harms. We believe our ancestors cry out for retributionbut do they? How do the survivors make the wrongs right? How do we forgive but not forget atrocities? How do we heal as a nation? As a shared planet? As a global society? As a civilization? As a human family?
Several years ago I joined in on a conversation about vehicles as we (strangers) wedged into a tiny waiting room talked about our car repairs. One fellow adamantly claimed he would never purchase a Japanese car because of the Pearl Harbor bombing. Memories stick like glue to traumatic experiences. Would I be forgiving after witnessing deaths of my fellow soldiers? I've never been a member of the military; can I possibly understand old wounds or fresh wounds? Forgiveness can be universal.
For a short while, I resided in the South and experienced surprise at seeing the display of the Dixie flag on pick-up trucks and tee-shirts. History is kept alive with memories of unforgiveness although the Civil War ended decades ago.
During my lifetime, USA wars in Vietnam and the Middle East ensued. I remember the Iran hostage incident, the bombing of Libya, and the Cold War scare of being nuked by Russia. The 9/11 terrorists attacks in New York are forever etched on my brain. I was at work when the director called and told us to close the office and go home. Feelings of outrage and anguish arrived with sadness, grief, and despair for the victims. Stomach-turning emotional pain produced tears of vicarious suffering. Life is relationships.
In books and classrooms, I've learned about the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. My uncle served in the Korean War and my nephew and brother-in-law served in the US Armed Forces. My spouse's grandfather served in WWII. War peppers our history. The ruthlessness of Hitler had to be blocked with military force, but the Vietnam War remains controversial and debatable. Did the USA have to nuke Hiroshima? The new fearweapons of mass destruction replaces Cold War trepidation. But the new fear is the old fear. History is full of fear. The victory of Desert Storm is overshadowed by the political antics of the American-Iran war and the hide-and-seek game for weapons of mass destruction. I don't understand war. And I know freedom isn't free.
Who will be the next fiendish dictator? And the next?...In the wise words of Abraham Lincoln, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." Modern day pirates still murder for booty but a glimpse into their childhoods reveal the rest of the story. A seared conscience becomes a dead conscience. The soul shrivels like grapes dried into raisins. A history of fanatical religious or nonreligious ideologies distorts sensibility. Devaluing human life paves the way for massacre.
Perhaps years of rage, bitterness, fear, and hatred mutant the body's physiology and the brain's neuronal synapses. The ability to experience healthy emotions evaporates. Psychology surmises these depraved individuals may be psychopaths or sociopaths with narcissistic personality disorders. Alas, contaminated ingredients produce a pungent pot of stew.
My question ishow did Stalin, Hitler, Hussein, and the gamut of bloodthirsty dictators convince people to follow in their barbaric footsteps?
How do you turn a law abiding citizen into a killing machine? What do you say to motivate adults to murder innocent children and women? How are men able to torture, rape, kill, and then plop down to a hearty dinner? How do merciless leaders create disciples of death? Is the human brain so malleable as to accept poisonous propaganda as fact and then snuff out breathing human beings? Is logic and reasoning overcome by the emotions of fear, envy, lust for power and control, revenge and hatred? What does it take to view individuals as subhuman? Lumping populations together and attaching contemptible stereotypes and degrading labels promotes biased thinking, fear, arrogance, and condescension. "I am better than you, smarter than you, more valuable than you, and more deserving. You are inferior and second-rate. I have power over you." Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany's social and political problems. Blame is a common denominator in genocide and war. "It's your fault! You started it! You cheated us!" Blame denotes that one side is innocent and the other is guilty. Each nation's history digest decries their blamelessness. What are we all so afraid of?
In history classes, we've been exposed to facts and fallacies about war since the birth of humanity. Our planet could tell war stories 'till the cows come home. Bloodshed and perennial tears litter the globe. According to the Jimmy Carter Center website, around 110 minor/major wars are being fought simultaneously. Is warfare in the twenty-first century fought for more noble causes? Universal human rights? Ending ethnic cleansing? Saving the children? Promoting peace? Preserving the human race?
Some proclaim that war is fought over real-estate, oil, and booty. Yes, I enjoy all the comforts made possible by mining the earth's treasures. But, how would I react if natural resources dried up? Would I vote for war to secure oil for a warm home or to drive my car? Would I trade in my lofty anti-war oratory for a loaf of bread? Thoughts to ponder.
Wars are fought for numerous reasons. India's occupation by the British fell under the weight of the salient desire for independence but the civil war between Hindus and Muslims rages on. African apartheid fell under the weight of the unrelenting human spirit longing for sovereignty but tribal conflict persists. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the biblical conflict between Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and their sons. History reveals the never-ending yearning for freedom and liberty, but also the never-ending lust for revenge and the stamping out of those who are unlike us.
Romanians, saturated with unspeakable travesties of a heinous empire, rallied for survival of human dignity. The Rwandan genocide in 1996 is a history lesson in civilization's capacity to continue the butchery of children, women, and men; the slaughter of former neighbors disguised as enemies; the machete slicing of disowned friends; the massacre of humankind; the destruction of self. Why do we demonize those we perceive as our foes? And classify persons into good or evil categories?
Earth's refugees flock to America's shore in search of life and liberty; survivors of torture and degrading acts. June 26 is designated as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. How horrendous! I want to shut my eyes and erase the cruelty of human behavior but instead I weep.
National Geographic and the Discovery Channel gives a bird's eye view into foreign lands and cultural combat but does television produce empathy in its' watchers? History is captured on tape; a visual witness of crimes against Earth's inhabitants.
"God bless us four and no more" echoes around the globe. Yesteryear is tainted with religious warfare; the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust.
The pilgrims traveled to America for religion freedom, but rejected the worshiping rights of the Indians (Native Americans). The Salem witch trials stain our past with ignorance and vileness. Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, and Baptists have blemished histories. Feast your eyes on the courageous words of Martin Luther, Soren Kierkegaard, and Phillip Yancey for lessons on legalistic religiosity. Congregation members proudly adorn denominational labels of dogmatic doctrine and in-your-face theology. Tolerance is intolerable when self-righteousness reigns. The mob mentality hurdles my-way-or-the-highway. History repeats itself with judgmental stones.
America is a beacon of freedom, democracy, and refuge for immigrants and the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, evidences our open doors. Immigrants become USA citizens and deserve to live on its' soil without discrimination and racism. I look forward to the day when our US president will be a black man or a woman.
Since the beginning of the beginning, history has been recorded on cave walls, stone tablets, parchment scrolls, and currency coins. History is passed down generation from generation in stories, parables, folklore, and proverbs. Tracing linage via genealogy is a popular activity. Coveted antiques connect us to the past and great-grandmother's quilt is fondly displayed. Movies on historical events engross us. Books on history line library shelves. Historians, writers, paleontologists, and treasure hunters are enthralled by yellowed documents, rusty coins, fossilized bones, ancient cities, and items of olden days. History reveals and conceals our past, present, and future. With modern technology our DNA can disclose secrets in bloodlines. What will our history reveal in the next century? And beyond?
Both individuals and collective humankind are composed of memories. The malady of amnesia robs a person of former identity and a new image has to be created and molded by way of a painful process. In the same analogy, historical amnesia would rob civilization of vital knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Mistakes would be repeated. The solution is not to change history but to change the present which will hopefully change the future.
On an optimistic note, history also records change and progress. The Berlin Wall in Germany toppled; South Korea is a democracy; countless national, international, societal, and community grassroots (nonviolent) organizations stand for peace and human rights. Groups like Amnesty International, Seeds of Peace, KidsPeace and the list goes on and on and warms my peace-loving soul! Organizations that involve our children and adolescents as participants and members are changing our future world.
USA Child labor laws protect our youngest citizens. Reporting the abuse of children and the elderly is mandated for helping professionals. Domestic violence shelters and policies continue to expand. Sexual harassment is taken more seriously. Discriminated workers can find assistance via the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The association, Parents of Murdered Children, is an incomprehensible reality. Medicine, research, and social services for individuals with HIV/AIDS are humanizing. Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous (AA and NA), Rational Recovery meetings, and faith-based Celebrate Recovery groups are refuges for many. Stone-less agencies continually spring up to help victims and survivors. In some corners of the globe, humankind possesses a heart of gold.
How do we overcome racism, discrimination within races, tribalism in third world countries, religious fanaticism, and ever present tyrannical dictators? How do we overcome the "isms" in our own communities: ageism, sexism, class status, and so on and so on? Self-preservation shouts, "Take my neighbor and not me!" Survival of the fittest screams, "You have to die so I can live!"
Some are apt to pine for days of yore, but conflict, violence, and war existed in the beginning and has persisted throughout our planetary history. Suspicion and paranoia reigned supreme during the Cold War in CIA and KGB spy-land. History remembers eroded trust, trickery, and deceit.
The privileged players on the planet's grand chessboard ooze clandestine pheromones of enticing and enthralling influence; mesmerizing to power-hungry cronies, corruptible cohorts; and brainwashing to vulnerable followers. The masses seek a rescuer embodied in a flesh and blood man to cure problems with a promise of prosperity and "a chicken in every pot" or in today's culture "a hamburger on every bun." Precious liberties are placed in the stained hands of self-proclaimed magna magicians who explode our inalienable rights and melt our freedoms. Leaders who hide behind half-truth patriotism to steal autonomy and kill pluralism.
The good 'ole days were not so good in regards to racism and discrimination. The richest and the poorest have always been at odds.
Some are apt to demand a return to historical days of isolationism in regards to global trade and travel. Putting a physical barrier around the USA and residing in a glass terrarium is not the answer either. After all our ancestral roots traveled from global regions near and far.
Baby-boomers reminisce about the former days of unlocked doors while child abuse and domestic violence hid in society's closet and adultery hid in the oval office. Discrimination showed up in Friday's paycheck for women and minorities. The huge North American chunk of land we inhabit displays an elevator evolution of human rights and for that I am thankful. Progress is slow. But we are not there yet. We haven't reached the top floor.
Nevertheless, I believe the answers (and there are many facets to the answers for our quandary of complexity) to discrimination and inhuman humanity lie in transformation and degrees of change (with even the smallest of increments) in the human mind, heart, emotional response network, spirit, soul; and by way of unlearned and relearned actions and reactions. How do we make people care deeply about each other? Red stones must be cast away willingly for genuine and permanent change and not forced by governmental laws and policies, communist dictatorships, or guilt-producing, shame-based, neurotic religiosity. Although in the movie, Groundhog Day, the self-absorbed character played by Bill Murray eventually embraced the lesson of kindness and compassion toward others after being forced to live the same day over and over. How do we create an environment where people want to care deeply about each other and are able to do so? How do we reduce suffering and increase well-being on every acre of our planet? That is the question asked by millions on our terrestrial ball.
People like me, people like you. People. Human beings.
Stones No More
How do we drop our stones? Prevention, intervention, and postvention are necessary. Prevention will save our children from suffering; intervention, a here-and-now action, acts as mediator; and postvention rubs soothing salve on wounded warriors. Where there is faith-there is possibility. Where there is hope-there is opportunity. Where there is you-there is me. We are humanity. Life is found in relationship.
Hope demands that we do not give up on people or write-off humanity. Hope lives on in the smallest of deeds done for others. Hope is a survival skill that allows the goodness of individuals to prevail in suffering circumstances. Through encouragement and support we can give the gift of hope to our national and international neighbors. At the end of each night love, hope, and faith remain as our lighthouse guiding us through emotional storms.
Notwithstanding, we need to ask the tough questions as we search for solutions. And while the solution to change and peace is found within us it is also found outside of us. While our mind and heart exist on the inside, our skin is outdoors. Our sensory organs absorb information from the exterior world via sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste. We are beings who function in environments with other beings. Life and love is about
Is global empathy only a pipedream? Is universal kindness a pie-in-the-sky birthday wish? Is a compassionate planet out of our reach? Is a peaceful earth null and void? Is forgiveness the key that fits the reconciliation lock and jumpstarts the long road to the healing of individuals and civilization? Is there a poultice for hurting humanity? "And all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty-Dumpty back together again." Is there a cure for violence? A remedy for racism? A restorative tonic? A love elixir? Can thousands of years of hostile history be put to rest? Grudges dissolved? Clemency given freely? Mercy poured out like rain? Can genuine tenderness melt hardened hatred? Is restitution acceptable to war orphans, weeping widows, raped women, elderly grandfathers, crime victims, or apathetic survivors? Can combat soldiers pardon their enemies? Can families reunite? Can we find a place of grace without red stones? Is change doable? These questions appear overwhelming until we turn our gaze to the peacemakers.
Let's first look to those who do not throw stones and study what they are doing that works. Build upon our strengths and traits that promote restoration and reconciliation and prevent conflict and violence. Families scattered throughout the global terrain teach the value of diversity to offspring. Volunteers of nonprofit agencies protect the vulnerable and victimized. Faith-based missionaries feed the hungry and clothe the poor. Religious social services provide physical and mental health care. Benevolence funds reach out to the homeless. The Red Cross patches up the wounded. A myriad of organizations exist to help the traumatized populace. Churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques are full of kind citizens who deeply love and care about others. Authentic peacemakers travel the globe. A rainbow of individuals march for human rights. Saints and martyrs are sprinkled throughout history. Altruistic folks with benevolent hearts and hopeful spirits reside worldwide in small villages and metropolis areas. Being motivated by compassion, they reek with sympathetic responsiveness. Agape love is found in cracks and crevices; communities and monasteries; homes and prisons; huts and mansions; industrialized and third world countries. As John Maxwell asserts, "People are changed, not by coercion, or intimidation, but by example." What traits do these individuals possess and how did they acquire them? Can we all become peacemakers?
We adopt and adapt our personal, cultural, and work values. Some cherish morality, virtue, integrity, justice, and honesty; others ooze kindness, compassion, humility, mercy, and empathy; some revere unconditional love, forgiveness, and respect for diversity; others prize autonomy and independence; some esteem critical thinking and openness. Values of religion and spirituality rate high for the masses. Nature and nurture dance together to mold human beings. Our traits are not either/or but lie on a continuum from low to high. All of us are fallible beings with character defects and flaws. Our personalities possess both strengths and weaknesses.
We all carry judgmental stones in our pockets. Although I can't imagine Mother Teresa's pockets being very heavy. But some carry pebbles while others carry boulders. "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones" is an old proverb that packs a powerful punch and exposes hypocrisy. We tear others down to build ourselves up. "If you are less than I am more." These fallacies circle the globe. How many red stones have bruised your self-worth? How many stones have been thrown at you? How many stones have you thrown at others who are different from you? How many times do individuals chant, "God bless us two and not you."
It is easier to show kindness and compassion, sympathy and empathy to family members and relatives, nice neighbors, and a circle of friends, than strangers and those whose skin is a different color, speak a foreign language, worship another deity, wear funky clothing, or eat radical foods. Some cultures find rats, worms, and bugs to be tasty and some find these foods disgusting. Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles) are considered a delicacy for our neighbors in the northwestern USA and I would have to be pretty hungry to eat 'em. When my daughter attended the second grade she asked for white bread instead of wheat bread in her lunch because other children made fun of her brown sandwiches. Why do we throw stones at the foods people eat? A key element in peace is allowing and respecting choices.
Strangers aren't the only ones who hurt us. I've counseled many families with rock collections that verbally and emotionally injured each other. For youth and young adults, searching for answers to why they believe what they believe can be a scary exploration. We often find out parents or guardians (our beloved childhood heroes and supportive role models) harbored faulty beliefs of prejudice and discrimination. Due to lack of exposure to other cultures or subcultures, ignorance abounded and fear flourished. Generational attitudes of intolerance thrived but you can break the cycle of narrow-mindedness and bigotry. I am impressed with the pluralistic acceptance of many members of newer generations. One of my daughter's best friends in high school is from India and another newly made, and now a best friend in college, is Asian American. Perhaps it's the older crowd that needs more education on diversity. My Appalachian family of origin still considers biracial marriages to be taboo. I politely but firmly informed an 88 year old relative (a kindly and generous widow) that using the "n-word" in front of my young child was inappropriate.
I found the television program that paired up families from different countries to be awe-inspiring. American families received hands-on lessons in diversity, poverty, and otherness. Comfort zones and hearts expanded. Blessings were counted.
I wonder why we pigeonhole people into dual categories of opposites: smart or dumb; pretty or ugly; rich or poor; weak or strong; optimist or pessimist; idealist or realist, when our individuality falls on a ranging continuum scale (excluding supermodels, geniuses, and TV superheroes). Narrow-mindedness views the world in black and white colors; chocolate and vanilla flavors; and disregards our rainbow planet. Humankind is too complex to be seen as simplistic. Pompous piety demonizes folks into good or bad and right or wrong. We speak of the best and the worst of civilization. Yes, values and morals are essential given that a valueless society based on immorality produces corruption, lawlessness, and suffering. But do we hide behind some of our personal values and morals in order to throw self-righteous stones? Can we focus our criticism on behaviors/actions and not personhood and personality?
Let's explore the puzzle pieces. Is kindness the fruit growing on the peacemaker's tree and squeezed into helpful deeds? The global community is in need of more gentleness and tenderness. In a world of frenzied lifestyles cultivating daily kindness can be a challenge. I am a member of The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (www.actsofkindness.org), a nonprofit organization committed to spreading kindness. Every year a week in November is dubbed World Kindness Week. Unbeknownst to me, someone once mowed my yard when I lacked a lawnmower. As Aesop wrote centuries ago in the story, The Lion and the Mouse, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." A rush of warmth filled my innards when I typed the word "kindness" and viewed an assortment of websites created by kindly mortals. I'll admit that I've stopped being kind to telemarketers and I need to revisit my reaction because how I react is about me and not about them.
Is compassion the answer to the riddle? Using passion to nurture and care for others. Finding time to give hugs to humanity. Spreading agape love on everyone's sandwich. Thomas Merton writes, "Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things." Youth in our schools could use a massive dose of compassion for each other. And so could adults.
What is the secret of the compassionate-living and long-suffering Buddhists? In the Shambhala Sun Online, the 14th Dalai Lama posits "By remembering the suffering of others, by feeling compassion for others, our own suffering becomes manageable."
Likewise, Steven Stosny, founder of CompassionPower, (www.compassionpower.com/) believes in the healing power of compassion for self and for others. He is a psychotherapy guru of emotional regulation.
Compassion for 9/11 and Katrina hurricane survivors gushed in the forms of prayer, money, and help from strangers. The USA is quick to send aid to countries traumatized from natural disasters. America is chock-full of compassionate individuals. They show up in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, and other places of human suffering. They donate funds to charities, telethons, and nonprofit organizations. I admire those empathic individuals who volunteer in the cracks and crevices to bring food and dignity to members of our human family. In the eloquent words of R.W. Emerson, "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself." Kind human beings do circle the planet.
I spent an evening playing games with young children at a homeless shelter. Even in the mist of difficult times, they laughed, sang, and danced. But they also craved hugs and attention. Homeless children--a heartrending paradox. No child should be homeless. EVER.
Mary Pipher's book, The Middle of Everywhere, is an eye-opening narrative about war-torn immigrants and their socialization into American culture. I recommend her monograph to every native born American citizen.
While pursuing my doctoral degree, I met several foreign students seeking graduate degrees; most planned to return to their countries of origin but a few wanted to stay after tasting a slice of American pie. One friend from Jordan (a country in the Middle East) carried a notebook around and recorded slang words then he would ask me to explain the meanings so he could improve his English language. Cut to the chase dialogue manifested only after our relationship developed and then we amicably discussed human rights, war history, politics, and religion. Our witty senses of humor promoted friendly fondness. Perhaps the solution to international war is found in mutual visitation to each other's counties from the masses and not just elected officials and diplomats. Walk in my shoes.
Is empathy the universal cure for violence and hatred? Putting ourselves into the shoes of others to experience their worldview. Practicing the Golden Rule and doing unto others. Mary Gordon, founder of the nonprofit organization Roots of Empathy (www.rootsofempathy.org/) developed a program to raise social/emotional competence and increase empathy in children from Kindergarten to 8th grade. Perhaps we need to start the change with children and teach them not to throw stones.
Our enemies have mothers and fathers, siblings and friends, spouses and children. Can citizens of democracy possibly understand the chains of communism? Oppression? We can put on the undercoating of empathy and try. Let me walk in your shoes.
What about emotional regulation and feeling management? Teach people how to process, deescalate, and manage frustration, anxiety, anger, rage, fear, sadness, grief, guilt, envy, jealousy. Flood the planet with trained mediators and conflict resolution specialists. Train communication skills. Empower people with choices and options. Am I just an idealist?
But, how does the strategy of empowerment via choices help citizens residing in the communistic countries of China or North Korea? I am assuming that all individuals yearn for democratic societies. Is this an Americanized assumption? Clandestine operations by Cubans for the liberation of Cuban exist. Pockets of covert reformers rally in oppressed nations. My friend from Jordan says the King has provided safety from invasion, basic needs, medical care, social services, jobs, and so forth, and the people are satisfied. My college classmates from Iran and Bosnia criticized American imperialism and intervention. My classmate from Vietnam held the USA troops in high esteem. My friend from Japan is afraid of being ostracized when she returns to her homeland because of her new pluralistic views. She no longer wants to discriminate against people who are different.
Is forgiveness the nectar of peacemaking? Religion has touted the rewards of forgiveness throughout history. Confession is said to be good for the soul. Maybe we need to revisit the words of Jesus or spend a week with the Tibetan monks. I've made a few Jewish friends whose families disowned them due to their conversion to Christianity. My close friend's Jewish husband was shunned by his family for marrying her, a non-Jew, and they ignored the grandchildren as well. I've known many Christians who recoiled from Catholics and Jehovah Witnesses due to their differences in theology and worship practices. We ridiculed Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart for their sexual sinfulness while ignoring their history of compassionate deeds. Religious and nonreligious folk still hurdle stones of judgment at Tammy Faye Baker, yet her steadfast faith, peppy personality, quirky kindness and nonjudgmental attitude on the Surreal Life TV show gained my respect. The person without sin is asked to throw the first stone and this includes us all. I am in you and you are in me. We are us. Throw down your stones!
Children are role models for quick forgiveness. When my daughter and her friends argued, they would stew awhile and then return to playing and this happened consistently. Resolving conflicts in childhood sets the stage for adult problem-solving skills.
Hugo's LesMiserables (one of my favorite movies) depicts an act of forgiveness bestowed upon the character, Jean Valjean, a criminal who stole silver from his befriended. An act of forgiveness transforms Valjean from the inside out.
John Walsh, father of Adam, courageously and relentlessly champions the cause to prevent child kidnappings and murders. Dare I even suggest that he forgive the predator who decapitated his young son? How do you forgive those who are not repentant? Some say pedophiles and child molesters do not deserve forgiveness in any shape or form. Looking into traumatic and abusive childhoods provide some explanation for the acts of some serial killers and monstrous murders, however it does not excuse it. Reasons and causes do not justify harming and hurting others but it helps when we try to understand humanity and make sense of our anguish. I dare not claim to have all the answers, or even, most of the answers. I search for answers.
In his book, Field Notes On The Compassionate Life; A Search for The Soul of Kindness, in the chapter called "Loving the Monster,' Marc Barasch interviews individuals who forgave the murders who killed family members. I marvel at their stories. But how do you forgive a murderer who confesses no remorse or sorrow? How do you forgive the faceless criminal who has not been caught? In reference to human hurts one of my colleagues uttered, "At the end of the day all you really have is your faith."
I stand in awe of the virtuous peacemakers. Nelson Mandela, the first elected president of South Africa, and Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, stepped into the nonviolent shoes of Gandhi to fight for freedom from apartheid. Martin Luther King, Jr. piloted the civil rights movement with peaceful policies. Jimmy Carter, another recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, epitomizes peacemaking diplomacy. Jesus, Confucius, and Buddha were men of peaceful means. Strength and gentleness coexisted in the bones of all of these peacemakers. Compassion and kindness surged through their veins. A myriad of peace-loving disciples followed their leaders. According to John White, "People do not follow programs, but leaders who inspire them." How did these empathetic men empty their pockets of judgmental stones?
Both Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter personify peacemaking and compassion in action. The Carter Center (www.cartercenter.org) is the vortex for human rights education and agendas, global conflict resolution policies, and mental health round-tables.
Like a biological family, the human family will be prone to debates, disagreements, arguments, differences of opinions and ideas, but that doesn't mean we have to throw stones and kill each other. I think I'm a combination of an idealist, optimist, realist, and pessimist, but I have hope.
We Are All The Same by Jim Wooten tells the story of Nkosi, a South African boy born into AIDS, poverty, and apartheid; adopted by a White family; his desire to attend school; and his early death. All over our globe, individuals are making a difference in the lives of others and we need to hear their stories.
The evaporation of sharing is perplexing. Where does our childhood lesson of sharing hide? Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays generate an overflow of sharing but what about the remaining 363 days? Compassion has to be more than loose coins dropped in Salvation Army buckets or volunteering a few hours of make-myself-feel-good activities. Poverty doesn't take a vacation. Feeling sympathy and empathy is just not enough. Action is required. Proactive activists are needed. And where would our continent be without the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, Feed The Children, and faith-based missions and food pantries? Kudos to the Catholic, Lutheran, and Jewish Social Services. Hats off to international missionaries who serve humanity one person at a time. Many kind people inhabit our earth home and love our human family.
I find strength in the resiliency of the human spirit. Individuals who survive stones of persecution; concentration camps; prisoners of war who prevail and return home; wounded children who heal; widows who overcome; and weeping mothers who dry their tears. How does an individual fit the physical, emotional, and spiritual pieces back together? What is their medicinal glue? We are fragile, yet resilient. We are vulnerable, yet durable.
I take courage in my belief that many unnamed peacemakers pepper this immense planet we reside on; individuals in the outback of Australia, the eloquent streets of Paris, thatched huts in Africa, adobe homes in Panama, domiciles in Cuban, condos in Florida.
"There's a choice we're making, we're saving our own lives," lyrics harmonized by a gathering of talented singers to help raise awareness and money to save the world's children. We are the world-we are the children. We are us. No child should die of starvation. EVER.
I am not purposing a one world government or a global police network as solutions for peace. Likewise, the power of the United Nations needs to be balanced and kept intact. Extremism in any one area is an enemy to universal human rights. Are we burning rubber in the direction of the destruction of civilization? Where do we find peace? How do we create peace?
Why do individuals assassinate our peacemakers: J.F. Kennedy, Abe Lincoln, M.L. King, Jr., Gandhi, John Lennon, Jesus? The death of these leaders did not stop the peace movement. Hope is reincarnated. The longing for justice, fairness, and dignity does not die but lives on in subsequent generations. Maya Angelou asks, "Do you know why the caged bird sings?"
Peace will not be accomplished by elected officials and diplomats; presidents and kings; treaties and truces; armies and weapons of mass destruction; popes and priests; or even by our most altruistic leaders. Peace will be accomplished by millions of civilians standing up for universal human rights, yet marching on their knees; hands clasping together horizontally around the globe, yet reaching vertically toward the sky. Humble people saying humble prayers. Empathetic people with compassionate hearts.
This week I watched the trial of Saddam Hussein and cringed as he ranted that he is a messenger of God while frightened witnesses hide behind a veil to tell their stories of terror, torture, rape, crimeless imprisonment, and murder of loved ones. Captured military men (his death squad) slumped into chairs behind him. When Hussein is dead and buried, history will remember his cruelty.
Tyrannical dictators without followers are immobilized. Hate-spewing preachers without cohorts are powerless. If all the kids on the playground stood up for the victim and against the bully, his/her intimidating behavior would cease in our schools. Adolescents who are biracial or gay have higher suicide rates and that is a gut-wrenching reality. Adults are supposed to be protectors of children. What happened? What went wrong and how can we make it right? We are us.
As John Lennon sang, "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." I fantasize about a 24 hour day without war, violence, murder, racism, hunger, disease, discrimination, suffering, and hatred, but that would be a slice of paradisenot earth. Am I an idealist? I imagine a planet with all hands emptied of red stones. How do hearts of stone melt? Albeit, the human heart remains an enigma.
We have no choice but to gaze into the future with hope for humankind and to diligently strive and struggle for a better way of "being" and "doing." To give in and to give up is not an option. Human beings are worth saving. Humanity is worth saving. You are worth saving-I am worth saving. We are us. Humanity is global. We are the human family. God created the human family. His human family.
Kindness, compassion, humility, understanding, forgiveness, hope, empathy, respect spouts from agape love or is it visa versa? Perhaps the solution is found in these words---Stones no more.
Melissa writes about the God and human connection and condition.