Yes, I am using the "e" word. I've seen so much anger and hate over the last two days, so much that just is beyond comprehension to me that I actually am beginning to wonder if there aren't people who choose evil. I usually try to approach every single person with compassion. I assume that people who are raging at others for no apparent reason simply are having a bad day and are handling it poorly. Maybe they are having a bad life and are handling it poorly. I assume that people who do racist, hating behaviors just haven't been educated, or are simply so afraid of what they don't understand that they are trying to protect themselves with anger and hate. I assume that the hate and fear industry (and yes, there is one) is profiting at the expense of people already angry and hateful by raising their fear to such levels that they simply can't see straight and are seriously trying to make their worlds safer with these crazy raging, hateful behaviors. I assume that people who mistreat others are generally people who've been mistreated; that Scott Peck was right when he talked about projecting those parts of ourselves that we don't like out onto other people and then acting to destroy it - that this is why people do evil. They don't set out to do wrong, they just can't deal with parts of themselves and so they act that out in these evil ways.
But I think I may be coming to the limit of my ability to believe that this is always true. I keep reading about Narcissists and the damage they do to others because they truly are unable to empathize. It goes even farther with psychopaths and sociopaths. Still, I've mostly clung to the belief that these folk don't choose their personality disorder or their mental illness. They have it, and so far we haven't found a whole lot of cures for these things. Plus mostly the people who have these conditions don't necessarily want to be "cured" because that would involve feeling, and feeling remorse for what they've done which is one of the most painful states of being.
Yet, when I see the amount of anger that is proportioned so outrageously in response to...well, often to NOTHING, I just have to wonder. What have we become? Why are we so angry? Why are we heading down this path of such meanness, often to people we don't even know? And more, what can we possibly do about it?
I remain convinced of the truth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr when he said "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Of course he was actually paraphrasing 1 John 4:18 (after all, he was a pastor): "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." Hate/fear/anger. All the same. And none of them can be solved or stopped or healed by more fear, more anger, or more hate. Revenge will never heal these things, it will only escalate the problems. Returning evil for evil will never destroy evil. Therefore, for those of us who truly want to make a difference in terms of promoting peace, love, kindness and compassion, I don't think there is a lot of choice in how we respond to the hate, anger and fear that will, it seems, come more and more our way.
I read a story on the internet a few days ago about an African American mom and her son who were picking up food at McDonalds in the Drive through. Some mean spirited person behind them in line shouted out some very attacking and racist remarks. The mother's response was to pay for the man's lunch and to write a note that said, "We are not what you called us. We forgive you. Have a good lunch." Wow.
I found myself truly moved, both with rage at what had been done to them, but also with a sense of awe for the courage that that mother showed, the choice she made to show love in the face of evil, and to teach her son a better way. As she said, "It is easy to respond to kindness with kindness. It is a much bigger thing to respond to evil with kindness." Again, she was just paraphrasing another scripture, Matthew 5:46, “If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?"
We had our panel the other night of Muslim speakers who came to share with us what it has been like to be Muslim in the United States at this time, what they have experienced, what they are grateful for, who they are, what they think, etc. It was incredibly informative and helpful. They took a great risk and effort (they were not paid) to take time off from their lives to come and speak to our churches in Clayton. But I understand that they were harrassed as they left. All of these speakers were amazing folk - one of them was THE primary engineer on the Hubble Telescope as well as one of those who worked on the Apollo. With his handful of PhDs, this man was absolutely incredible, along with the rest of them in what they have contribued to society and to the world, and they took time to speak with us, share with us, answer our questions, our concerns, our fears. They were rewarded for that with meanness. But again, they chose to act in a more "Christian" way than those who were yelling at them in the parking lot. They responded with dignity, grace, and peace. And again, I found myself moved, both in rage at what they experienced by people who claim to believe in the One who said, (again Matthew 5:43 on..) "You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Parent who is in heaven. God makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. ..", but also moved by their choice to choose peace, to choose compassion, to choose love in face of that nastiness.
I want to choose the same. But it is not always easy. The other day I was walking in a parking lot at the store and was about to get to my car to put in my groceries, when some rageful person started cussing me out. I have no idea why. I assumed it was because they wanted me to move faster to get my groceries in the car so they could have the spot, but honestly I don't know why. I wasn't going to listen to that kind of language, so I don't know what the message was underneath it. But I thought about these other examples that I've seen recently. And I chose then to wave, to smile, and to quickly get my groceries into the car so that he could have the spot. He did not take the spot, but continued to shriek. I still have not one clue about why. I asked Jasmyn if she could see why he was so angry, but she said "no", and finally we drove out of the parking lot and were on our way. I acted the way I wanted to act. I acted with the peace and compassion I choose to demonstrate. But I have to admit, I did not feel peaceful at all. I was shaking with anger, with fear, with visions of yelling back about how that was not language that was appropriate for my kids to hear. I felt torn up inside by a person I don't know, will never meet, who was just... ANGRY. It didn't make me feel better to act with kindness. It did not make me feel better to be kind in the face of that kind of anger/hate. But it didn't make me feel worse either. If I'd acted in anger, I would have felt more angry. If I'd chosen rage, I probably would feel some guilt on top of everything else.
There is a saying in many 12 step programs which is "Act as If." The theory behind it is that you act your way into being someone else. Act as if you are a peaceful person and you will become one. Act as if you are no longer angry and you will stop being angry. Act happy and calm and confident and those feelings and attributes will follow. That is my choice for now. I don't know that it will always work. I don't know that I can always think of the kind way to respond in the face of anger or hate. But I can try. I can try. And perhaps in trying, I will become what I want to be.
I may not change the world. I may make no difference at all in the scheme of things. But I also will not let the world make me more angry, hateful or fearful. I don't choose that, for myself or for those around me who are affected by my behavior. For today, I pray that is enough.