The first time I was jumped on (outside the home) was 2nd grade. I do seem to have been in more fights than most of my peers. It often had to do with my mouth and my unwillingness to back up. Growing up on the south side I was attacked, robbed, beaten and chased on innumerable occasions. I left South Shore at age 14 and moved to Hyde Park. The instances of violence directed at me or near me, continued countless times. The problem was magnified when I left home at age 15/16 and lived wherever I could find that night to lay my head.
When people are aghast that I am armed all the time or that I am hyper-vigilant, I in turn become aghast that they are aghast. If my father had never struck me often and regularly, I probably still would have gotten PTSD. \
I was robbed or attacked my first day of high school, my first day at my third high school and the first day of my fourth high school. I was attacked in a preparatory boarding school (second high school) in New Hampshire.
I do not recall initiating attacks but I could be having selective amnesia. I certainly learned to live amongst predators. I had many friends who were quite capable of launching a violent attack but I do not recall us ever starting the fight.
As I slide into old age, I do not feel safer. I do feel more resigned to the universe, impermanence and death. So I am a hybrid of ideas, experiences and education. I am violence tinged with metta/loving kindness. Or perhaps it is metta tinged with violence.
I don’t know if I would have wanted it otherwise. I have no idea if I would have done many of the good things I did as a social worker or a lawyer if I had been raised in a more peaceful arena. I do not know if I would have been motivated, experienced or concerned enough to have provided the advocacy that I was able to provide clients. Having my experiences as a kid, as a defendant and as a loudmouth made me more empathic than others who lacked my background.
Time takes time. What is, is. What was, was.
How can we live together while we disagree about things that are so personal? I am pondering that maybe it is time to separate myself from social media civil discourse. It is way past ugly now. Many of my friends are staking out positions which do not allow for acceptance of differences. There is little effort to understand opposing viewpoints. Considerable effort seems to go into seeking memes to post to Facebook which seem to glorify, justify and promote our opinions.
The Buddha taught among many other things, Right Speech. “It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”
I myself am losing perspective and have difficulty staying on the path. I find that the community I reside in influences me tremendously. I spend a great deal of time with recovering addicts and alcoholics and I remain free of intoxicating substances. I stay close to my spiritual community and that results in a concerted effort to practice spiritual principles. But here on Facebook I have many friends beyond those communities I hold you in great affection and even admiration. But since your instinct is to be “right” and you are closed to living civilly with those that think “wrong”, you create an ambiance of polarization and intolerance. Whether it be guns, religion, gay sex, or abortion et al. These are hot topics and engender strong personal beliefs.
Passion is not the enemy. Intolerance and lack of acceptance are the foes. We have not and will not force agreement so we are challenged to work spiritually and practically to live harmoniously. Alternatively, just dismiss this rant and seek out your next meme to launch your next attack. Sadly, many of the people we are attacking reside amongst us. The Buddha did not suggest that if the object of your ire lived in another country, we were free to speak harshly and self-righteously.
Do we really need enemies? Do you let others decide they are your enemies because we are so powerless that if a cult or sect or organization has extremists we define their members by the worst of them.
Buddha said “Speak only the speech that neither torments self nor does harm to others. That speech is truly well spoken. Speak only endearing speech, speech that is welcomed. Speech when it brings no evil to others is pleasant.” Trump scares me. I am often tempted to verbally crucify him. I did throw dirt at Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott recently. It came so easy. But while I do not like that propensity I have refrained from attacks on most of my social media community. I issue the challenge to all to dig spiritually to ascribe to and practice better behavior in speech and writings. Loving kindness towards all sounds silly in our Western civilization. But it is integral to spiritual practitioners everywhere. So if ever there was a moment of spiritual challenge, that moment may be now.
So I just got off the phone with my friend Jerry. Jerry and I met 7 years ago and our friendship has revolved around 12 step recovery and hiking. Jerry doesn’t much like easy hikes. So we often hiked long and hard for hours on end. Jerry works in the defense industry and is very conservative. As friends are want to do, we discussed every topic under the sun.
We talked politics frequently and we did again today. We don’t talk as often as we used to because he has late stage cancer and between the pain and the nausea he is not often talkative. But as we talked today I was reminded that despite being worlds apart politically, neither one of us ever had to disrespect the other’s beliefs. We have always done a great job of accepting each other. We often threw each other’s candidates under the bus, but not each other.
So what makes some people civil and others not so? Why does someone have to disparage others who do not agree with them? What is so satisfying about feeling superior?
An author I like, Henri Nouwen authored 40 books on spirituality as well as countless articles on theology and psychology. Nouwen was a Catholic priest. He once said “As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their “right” place.”
Billy Graham offered this bon mot on judging. “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”
I spent years in courts hearing judgments passed that I knew in my heart did not reflect my reality. I used to warn clients charged with crimes, that judges were so removed from the reality of the streets, that they would be well-advised to expect harsh results. Judges handed out prison time like candy. Juries were supposed to be my client’s peers but rarely came close. I left the practice of law for reasons related to the persistent ill-affects of judging.
Ever since I joined Facebook I hear persistent negativity spewed freely. Liberals this, Conservatives that. The harshest refrains are never true. They are junk. They rise out of the depths of ignorance and self-righteousness. Yes, that is a judgment I just made. I need to make judgments of sorts constantly. I need to judge situations and persons and decisions. I need to determine what is healthy and what is not. I need to decide who should be in my life and who should not. The judging I speak of is most often found in the political and ideological arena.
I had a radio show for several years. I interviewed dozens of guests from all walks of life. Some were nuts. Some were holders of opinions I found despicable. (I interviewed the Westboro Church family.) I interviewed the chief law enforcement spokesperson for The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He offered nothing but platitudes. I felt bad for him because he was so lacking in empirical data and made statements that were hollow about controlling violence. As my guest I did what I often do and tried to help him make his points. It was hopeless. I interviewed his nemesis John Lott. Lott is armed for interviews with statistics and anecdotes and is quite persuasive. I hear he has been discredited but in my experience those that attack him are very partisan.
I interviewed people who believe the US government blew up the Twin Towers. Gosh I actually interviewed quite a few conspiracy theorists. I tend to disbelieve conspiracies but I never found it necessary to put any of my guests down. I challenged them all. Friend or foe, I tried to facilitate discussions that illuminated the various opinions on the subject. I have interviewed cops and criminals, prisoner support groups, advocates for convicted sex offenders, supporters of 12 steps and disbelievers in 12 steps. That was then, this is now.
The transition to social media has been most pleasant in connecting with friends from all periods and places in my life. I love visiting with pals throughout the day who I might otherwise not communicate with. The photos and jokes and news is a welcome addition to my day.
But the flaming, judging and general pride in opinions leaves me wanting to wash away the dirty feeling. Buddhism has taught me some resistance to judgments. I learned humility in the monastery living amongst monks. I learned to bow to another human. Something I could hardly imagine doing in the past. But I think it makes a good point when said… “If you cannot bow to the Buddha, you cannot be a Buddha. It is arrogance.” Shunryu Suzuki.
So Jerry and I have weathered the same kinds of discussions that have caused unfriending. His tolerance of my liberal views has made his friendship all the more dear to me. His advocacy for political viewpoints I have never held or admired, taught me to listen beneath the words. Loving kindness makes me feel better about myself in a way that self-righteousness never has. Who knew? If you had told me I never would have believed it. I had to love my way into a new way of living.
When I drive or bike why do I stare at objects in the road which appear to be animals that may have been run over. I am drawn to the sight to verify what I often think. Frequently it is just a pile of leaves or debris. Sometimes it is a dead squirrel or rabbit, cat etc. And my reaction is always the same. I am pained by the sight and then I say a silent prayer that it died quickly and painlessly. But I cannot explain why I even look closely to see what it is that seems to be laying in the street.
So while I was biking Sunday, I pondered this ritual of mine. It stimulated me to think how I desire to have all living being be free from suffering. I pray that all living beings be free from all forms of suffering. I pray that no living thing live or die in fear. I pray that there is a power in the universe which will protect sufferers such that their physical or mental anguish will be mitigated by the higher power.
I cannot imagine the suffering someone like the 3 women in captivity by Ariel Castro. How much suffering is associated with being held captive, no one knowing where you are and never knowing if you will ever be freed. Or what is it like to be Jaycee Dugard, the abducted girl who was held captive for 18 years.
I especially hurt for kids lost, kidnapped, ill or injured who have not developed the coping skills of someone much older. Defenseless! Is God there to provide some relief from untold fear and suffering?
And then how about the men and women who just struggle every day to make a living and support themselves and family. Never having enough to be comfortable. Always fearful of losing a job, having an auto repair or a medical expense which creates anxiety about being able to pay the rent or utilities. I pray for them too.
I pray for people who have emotional, psychological, mental or physical handicaps that result in their isolation and seclusion from others. Living alone with their illness, alone without family or friends to comfort them or assist them.
I wonder how to support my country against its “enemies”. Often those that wish us harm are those we harmed. I didn’t start it. I didn’t wish it. I do not want young Americans placed in harms way and I do not want them to suffer further upon their return because of my aversion to inject our country into these armed-conflicts. So I pray for our troops and I pray for our enemies.
I pray for those in prisons and I pray for those who imprison. I pray for the wage slave and the corporate plantation owners. I pray for the prey and I pray for the predator. Once I start on a course of compassion and loving kindness for any as described by the Buddha, I find little freedom to not pray for all. My willingness to be selective in my compassion has dissipated and now I am compelled to include all. Evil is no less deserving of my prayers than goodness. Sinners no less than saints.
I can’t explain how I got here. It started with a spark of love which was always in me. It was enough to make me an advocate for those I felt needed an advocate. It was enough to make me believe in and act on behalf of street kids, gang-bangers and drug addicts. But not enough love was left for the persecutors, bullies and predators. What I had left over was a lot of judgement.
My policy statement was found in Ezekiel 25:17 “And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.”
Now age and maturation fueled by the practice of Buddhism and Metta (loving/kindness) has broadened the group which I classified as deserving and diminished the group who were undeserving.
I am difficult. Easy to anger, quick to fight. I do not tolerate any threats, physical or other of any sort against me. I will resort to verbal or physical violence if prodded. I prefer to be kind but I am not hesitant to show anger. I wish it were not so, but until future progress, I think we can safely say this is where I reside. But despite all the violence and difficulties, love grows through practice. Compassion is slowly demanding more of a seat at the table. Equal time is now given to the practice of metta and I always include the reflection on loving/kindness before I end a meditation.
I don’t know why I stare at the crash. But at least I pray for the well-being of the victims. And I know that this practice of mine is good and wholesome. And I know that if everyone were practicing metta, that the world would be a better place. I don’t need someone to tell me that. I don’t need to see it. I just know its truth.