Saturday, April 16, 2011

Look Within

There has been much discussion about Terry Jones’s decision to burn the Qur'an, as well as the subsequent retaliation of Muslims in Afghanistan. Now it’s time for my two cents.

I won’t spend time critiquing the acts of Jones or condemning the backlash it released. I’m sure most who read these essays agree that neither was justified and that, moreover, Jones’s intentionally going after this kind of response was particularly disturbing. My current theme, though, is a bit different. First, some background.

Several years ago, my husband ran a program to treat court~ordered perpetrators of domestic violence. Whenever there was a high profile case in the news~~ a man having murdered his wife, for example~~the men in my husband’s groups would immediately jump on the bandwagon of self~righteousness, detailing the ways in which they were different from that man. My husband’s job, bless his heart, was to lasso them from this easy avenue of discussion and insist they address a much harder question~~in what ways were they the same?

Consider yourselves lassoed. In what ways are we the same as Jones and the rioting Afghanis?

Few of us will be tempted to burn a sacred document of another faith or to murder someone in retaliation for an insult to our cherished beliefs. No, our temptations are of a subtler nature, but in their essence not so very different.

Most of us can be judgmental and harsh in our dealings with others. We often act out our mistaken assumptions and our upset, while justifying our own negative behaviors. Our emotional reactions can close our hearts, allowing whatever personal agenda is primary at the time to make us unresponsive to another’s pain. These very human tendencies routinely cause harm to ourselves and those close to us and, given the right provocation, they can explode into something much worse.

Terry Jones is not the problem. He is an angry, wounded man who finds temporary relief in public acts of hate that garner him notoriety. Muslims who commit atrocities are not the problem either. They are simply using their sacred text to justify the violence within their own hearts, as have folks from many religious traditions over the course of time, including Jones.

While we certainly need to speak in opposition to such acts, our real foe is not another person, religion or culture. Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh, who watched innocents die as his country was torn apart by hatred, has earned the right to teach us something on this subject. He writes, “Human beings are not our enemy. Our enemy is the violence, ignorance, and injustice in us and in the other person.”

He reminds us that we humans are more alike than different, that the seeds of every human impulse lie within us all. Those seeds that have been “watered” by our life experiences grow sturdy, while the ones that get little attention lie fallow, waiting only for the right conditions to sprout.

Anger, wonder, despair, compassion. Hatred, delight, competitiveness, kindness. We share these tendencies and more with our fellows. We each have a responsibility to curtail our unhelpful tendencies, while nurturing our wholesome impulses~~the ones that accurately reflect our spiritual traditions. Thus, we grow in our ability to live together in peace.

So, while we rightly speak out against hatred in its various forms, let us not forget that we are capable of behaving similarly. And let’s also not shy away from looking within ourselves and assessing~~and transforming~~the ways in which we behave unconsciously and thereby hurt, either directly or by proxy, our fellow human beings.

In so doing, we pay true homage to our sisters and brothers the world ‘round who are being harmed~~even as I type these words and even as you read them~~by cruelty of any kind.

Blessings, please, on our whole complex, amazing, confused, endearing, often misguided, yet ultimately redeemable species!

Loanne Marie


Anonymous said...


Loanne Marie said...

Well, I must say, that is the most concise comment anyone has ever left here! Thanks for reading and for writing.

monica wood said...


Oh my gosh, this is a wonderful essay. So wise and so kind. After 9/11 Stephen Jay Gould wrote a piece about the preponderance of good in the world, and ironic truth that one "bad" act can create so very much damage while the many "good" acts do not have that power, unless we note them. I will spend the next week noting every kindness (both offered by me and received by me). Thank you for letting me focus my week in this positive way. xoxoxoxo

Loanne Marie said...

What a wonderful perspective, Monica! We, through the power of our awareness, determine what 'counts'. Let's make those good acts powerful by noticing them, by honoring them with the light of our awareness. A bit different spin on the ideas of 'the power of positive thinking' and 'create your own reality'. Thank you for this!

Bonnie said...

I applaud and join the two comments above---they took the words right out of my heart.


Loanne Marie said...

"Took the words right out of my heart." I love that line! That is the place where all the best words come from, isn't it? Thanks for writing.

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Leia Marie